My Ramadan through the years as an adolescent, student and mother

To introduce the holy month to my five-year-old, I bought him a Ramadan advent calendar

Mona Farag says her home in Abu Dhabi resembles a Ramadan tent, embellished with sparkly lights and colourful motifs. Victor Besa / The National
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Two weeks before the start of Ramadan, I was in the kitchen to stock up my freezer with pre-packed iftar meals.

I never thought I would be the person doing that at any point in my life.

It is strange how, at every stage of your life, you are a step closer to becoming your mother and carrying on a tradition that has spanned generations.

From the time freezers became readily available, Arab mothers have made sure that the essential Ramadan ingredients were stocked and ready to go to pull out for any impromptu Ramadan feast.

Then again, every iftar is a feast in most Muslim households.

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic — or Hijri — calendar because it is believed to be the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month, and break their fast with iftar, the meal eaten at sunset.

The month of fasting is typically 29 or 30 days, depending on the phase of the moon.

Besides it being a month for religious contemplation, long nights of praying and abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, it is a month to remember the many blessings and fortunes that one may have.

Breaking fast in a house filled with family and friends is one of those blessings.

Growing up in Abu Dhabi, Ramadan meant a carousel of iftars hosted by the many expat communities throughout the month, which meant all I had to do was show up and devour whatever delicacies were set at the dinner table.

Every night, I would spend time with my friends after iftar and play card games amid a loud chatter of parents discussing sports, politics, religion and cooking tips.

However, that changed once I moved to Canada as an MA student, and I had to find other means to enjoy some sustenance during the month of fasting.

Thankfully, I had retained some of my mom's cooking techniques, the result of her ordering me into the kitchen to help her when we hosted those iftars.

Soon enough, I became the Arab student community's “resident mom” where I would occasionally cook and host Jordanian and Egyptian friends from university for home-cooked meals.

Joining the festive calendar

Ironically, once I became a mother, cooking and feeding more than one person was not at the top of my list.

With each passing year, multinational companies selling everything from confectionery goods to household cleaning products compete to put up the most festive and heart-warming commercials and advertisements on religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

For most children under the age of seven, the concept of religion or religious affiliations does not necessarily hold much significance for them.

They are drawn to the colourful decorations and wonders that each occasion brings to their screens and in public spaces such as malls and bazaars.

As a child in Abu Dhabi in the 90s, that was never a challenge for me and my parents.

We did visit Santa's grotto and take part in Easter egg hunts with our Christian friends, but we never needed the decorations and lights to commemorate the holy month to make it more appealing to young minds.

In addition, not every country in the Mena region celebrates Haq Al Laila, or Garagaeen, a tradition celebrated in Gulf countries, when children wear traditional clothes and carry colourful woven bags, going door-to-door singing in return for nuts and sweets.

Since I have become a mother, my home in Abu Dhabi resembles a Ramadan tent, embellished with sparkly lights and Ramadan motifs from the entrance to the dining table.

This year, I have invested in a Ramadan advent calendar, where a star would be placed on the day once it has started, and a treat would then appear. I will place it in each pocket before the breaking of the fast at sunset.

My five-year-old is now aware that there is such a thing as Ramadan and that it started this week — a little victory for me.

Now, he is looking forward to Easter spring camp and the colouring of eggs and adorning of bunny ears.

In all cases, my goal to raise a well-adjusted and knowledgeable child in this age of commercialisation is well on its way.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 10:09 AM