With Ramadan around the corner, many of us will turn our minds to our essential prep. We might be stocking the freezer with pastries, making sure the cupboards have all the staples, penciling in iftar invitations or getting crafty with crescent-moon and lantern decorations to bring the festive vibe home.
We live in a time of plenty. The boom of Ramadan and Eid-inspired industries has helped build essential sparkle and hype around our season as believers. Muslim businesses are booming with products to embellish Ramadan in ever-more exciting ways, and this trend is only likely to become stronger in the coming years. We can now access Ramadan-themed paraphernalia in an unprecedented way, and though there is an important function in this- we should also approach this with due caution. Ramadan is primarily a time of spiritual rejuvenation, a month where we strengthen our commitment to worship, our understanding of our own limitations and reap the undeniable avalanche of divine blessings which are felt in the bustle of a family breaking their fast, as it is in the stillness of those blessed nights.
The revival of our hearts in this month should be a gift extended to our children also. Far away from the paraphernalia, Ramadan carries a deep spiritual richness that children can access when packaged appropriately. Remind children that Ramadan is a gift Allah has given us in order to gain closeness to Him, and that this month helps us do that in many different and wonderful ways.
With children who may be foraying into their first fasts, half-day fasts or simply enjoying a “30 minutes before iftar fast”, prepare for Ramadan by opening up conversations about the basic concept of fasting. Why do you think we are asked to not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset? How do you feel after going some time feeling hunger and thirst?
For children who have fasted before, ask them to articulate the feelings they have had during a fasting day.
- What do you feel when you feel hunger and thirst in the day and there are still hours left for iftar? Are you able to motivate yourself to continue, and how?
- How do you feel in the final moments before iftar?
- How do you feel after having that first date and sip of water?
- How does that meal taste after a day of fasting?
Introduce children to types of fasting
Children are often a lot more attuned to deeper spiritual concepts than they are given credit for. Open up a conversation with them about the different ways people can fast, other than abstaining from food and drink.
Guide the conversation with:
Fasting of the tongue
What would a tongue that is fasting sound like? What kind of words would it say? What would it refrain from doing? How much would someone with a fasting tongue speak? How much thought would they put into every word?
Speak to children about the following hadith:
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever does not leave evil words and deeds while fasting, Allah does not need him to leave food and drink.” (Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1903)
Fasting of the limbs
Our limbs are our arms and legs. What are some of the things that people can do (good and bad) with our hands and legs? What kind of places would the legs of a fasting person take them? What kind of things would the hands of a fasting person do? What would they both refrain from doing? Did you know a day will come when even our limbs will come to life and speak on our behalf? They will talk about the things they were busy doing, what kinds of things do you want them to say?
“That Day shall We set a seal on their mouths. But their hands will speak to us, and their feet bear witness, to all that they did.” (36:65)
Fasting of the eyes
At the swipe of a screen, we can access content of any genre, topic and persuasion. Ask your children what the eyes that are ‘fasting’ would want to look upon? What would they want to avoid? What are the effects of regularly viewing things that distract or harm you? Talk to them about how what comes in through the eyes often imprints on the heart. Images can stay with you long after you’ve viewed them, and their impact can remain strong for a long time. Speak to them about examples of this. Have they ever seen a very powerful image?
You could speak to them about your own experiences: have you ever seen a harrowing image that has stirred you to help others? What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and what impact did that sight have on you? Did you ever see something that disturbed you and you struggled to get that image out of your mind? Talk to children about the impact of the images we see, and how we should guard our eyes from the things we expose them to.
Fasting of the ears
What are some of the things that we hear around us that benefit, inspire and bring joy to us? What are the things that can upset, hurt or bring us down? What kinds of words, music, Qur’an and other auditory stimulus are around us and what effect do they have on our mind and heart? What would the ears of a fasting person listen out for? What would they avoid?
Fasting of the heart
The fasting of the heart is arguably a combination of all the previous types of fasting combined together. Speak to your children about the spiritual heart- how it is the guide that controls our actions and thoughts. What does a healthy fasting heart look like? How would it feel? What would disturb a fasting heart? Get children to think about the times they’ve felt their heart most at peace and, when they’ve felt their heart uneasy. Talk to them about the things that bring their heart happiness and relief. Most of all, emphasise that a heart connected to Allah is one that will find purpose and peace, even in difficult times. Ask them how they might look after their heart while fasting.
Bring to their attention the following hadith:
“There is a piece of flesh in the body if it becomes good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Talk to children about the levels of fasting
Just as there are different types of fasting (horizontal element) there are also degrees of fasting and this vertical element is something that kids can really interrogate and understand.
Begin by asking children open, relatable questions:
- Imagine 10 people are fasting, and one person is behaving in a grumpy unkind way to others while others are using the time to help and bring joy to others: do you think the value of their fast is the same?
- If someone is fasting but spends all day complaining how hungry he is and moaning about how much time there is left, do you think he may be reducing the value of his fast through his behaviour? Being patient can increase the quality of your fast because it is increasing the quality of your character.
Though many people can fulfil the letter of the law by not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, ask children whether they are fulfilling the spirit of the law. The ‘spirit’ of the law of fasting is to be in a higher state of remembering Allah and being mindful of others around you. Discuss with children what the bare basic level of fasting is (abstaining from food and drink for the prescribed hours) and slowly start working your way up with them to talk about the one who wants to make his or her fast the very best quality it can be. The highest level of fasting would be when all your hands, eyes, limbs and heart were engaged in activities seeking the pleasure of Allah… and we should try to aspire to that.
Ask them to think about the level of their own fast and how they can work on improving its quality. Encouraging muhasaba (self-accountability) is a great internal mechanism for children to account themselves to themselves. This will help children develop a sense of introspection and internal honesty. They will be able to look at themselves and make a judgement of their own state without the need to express it to others. This helps children to rely less on external validation from peers or elders and judge their own growth by their own personal standards.
Discuss how Ramadan was experienced throughout Islamic history
Discuss the major, exciting, and decisive events of huge Islamic significance that took place in Ramadan. This is the month when the Qur’ān was first revealed, the Battle of Badr was won, the conquest of Makkah took place, and our mother Khadījah left this world. It was also the month were Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyūbi defeated the Crusaders and the Mongols were defeated for the first time in 658 AH.
Ask them if they can imagine what it took to live those events while fasting? Get them to consider the struggle they go through now in comparison – with spring in the air and lockdown easing – and how they would feel experiencing their Ramadan in any of those situations.
Encourage children to decide and set their own goals for the month
Children should have their own aims for Ramadan, as we do. This can be whatever is achievable and encouraging for a child, whether it is to memorise a sūrah, learn the Names of Allāh, or fast a specific number of days. Ramadan should be a time for children to set their own objectives for religious and spiritual growth so that they come to Eid feeling firmer in their īmān as a result of the month that has gone by.
Enjoy the togetherness and communal joy Ramadan brings
Make the gatherings of suḥūr, iftār, and communal prayer the enduring memory for children experiencing Ramadan (even those who are not fasting yet). Use it as a time where they remember their family and friends coming together in a shared and inspiring experience. These are the years where their most profound memories will become imprinted on an internal landscape they will traverse for the rest of their lives. The beauty of Ramadan is already divinely-sent, it is only our role as parents and care-givers to preserve this sacred essence of it for our children.