The month of Ramadan is upon us once again. It is month in which Allah (swt) showers his mercy and blessings upon the believers. It is the month in which the Quran was revealed to act as a guidance and criterion for determining right from wrong. It is the month in which Allah (swt) placed the special night, al-Qadr which is worth 1000 months. It is also, as we are all aware, the month of fasting had been made obligation upon the mature Muslims unless the text gave them exemption.
Ramadan also has a special significance for me, as it was the month in which 17 years ago I took my shahadah and made that life changing decision to embrace Islam. The story of my shahadah is a blog post in its own right, but I remember Ramadan and the Ramadan atmosphere playing a role in pushing me over the edge and making the change. There was a sense of collectivism displayed by the Muslims manifest in congregational prayers, having suhur and iftaar together which captured my attention. I spent my 2nd year at university sharing a house with Muslims, so had witnessed first-hand, brothers waking in the early hours (well Ramadan was in January then so it wasn’t that early) burning toast and having leftover curry. In the 3rd year they also roped me in to helping prepare the iftaar for the ISOC, mostly because I was the only one who could taste the food to make sure it had enough salt. That was my first real experience of Ramadan and in the last 10 days, after having undergone an intellectual awakening, I decided to take my shahadah.
The Ramadan’s that followed were slightly strange. I had finished my degree and was living back at home with my parents. There was none of the collectivism or atmosphere that I had experienced at university. My parents made some effort, but I was the only one fasting in my house and to some extents Ramadan was no different to any other month.
Now as a married man with my ‘3 little Muslimahs’ I’m starting to get that Ramadan feeling back again and gain an understanding of what Ramadan can be like in a Muslim household.
Festivals in the West
The child in the West often has a very strange relationship with special, religious occasions. I remember as a child being raised in a Hindu household. We would have certain religious occasions, the most significant of them being Diwali; however they just seemed to blend into the background of life. There was no great excitement or anticipation. In my house we would know when it was, but the day would come, we would eat, sit there quietly whilst my parents sang their religious songs and that was it, tomorrow was another day.
Christmas and Easter, were different. These were celebrations that we would look forward to in eager anticipation. Shops would be decked out in seasonal food and gifts, Christmas trees and lights would shine everywhere. We would buy Christmas cards and share them with friends and family. Strangely, we would partake in the festivities of Christmas almost like it was a Hindu festival. We had a Christmas tree, open presents on Christmas day, have turkey, wear the hat, watch the Queen’s speech, we even tied a string across the room where we would all hang our Christmas cards.
My wife describes a very similar reality. Ramadan was an ordinary month, with the only difference being that you couldn’t eat and for the women the extra washing up at the end of the day. Christmas though was exciting; the collective atmosphere would captivate her. You could sense something special was happening. She would always look forward to decorating the tree at school, exchanging cards with friends and teachers, buying the TV guide and marking the Christmas programs that she wanted to watch. As a child the atmosphere was electric, and a sharp contrast to Ramadan.
Nowadays all festivals have been hijacked by capitalism. Walk into any supermarket and you will see big signs saying “Ramadan Mubarak” as they try and cash in on the ‘green pound’.
Ramadan – more than just having a laugh
However, Ramadan has more significance to the believer than just pleasure, fun and sensual gratification. It is the month in which believers sins are forgiven.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
Whoever stands (in the voluntary night prayer of) Ramadan out of faith and in hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Ramadan is the month in which Allah (swt) protects the believers from the Hellfire.
Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
Anyone who fasts for one day for Allah’s sake, Allah will keep his face away from the Hellfire for (a distance covered by a journey of) seventy years. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The joy for the believer is attained through the fasting the day for the sake of Allah (swt)
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessing be upon him) said:
There are two occasions of joy for a fasting person: one when he breaks his fast, and the other when he meets his Lord, and the (bad) breath (of a fasting person) is better in the sight of Allah than the fragrance of musk. (Al-Bukhari).
As a parent I face the dilemma of having to build the correct mentality in my children, that Ramadan is about worshipping Allah (swt) alone, whilst having to compete with the bright lights and razzmatazz that surround the other festivals that captivated me as a child.
Building the Ramadan mind-set
Before you can contemplate building the Ramadan mentality in your children it is essential that you have the correct mind-set yourself. This year Ramadan will encompass the whole of July and for the next few years these are the longest fasts we will experience. Unfortunately for some parents, the dominant thought for Ramadan is the length of the fast. Discussions ensue in the coming weeks of ‘how am I going to cope’. As a result instead of creating a positive atmosphere, negativity ensues about Ramadan which naturally affects children.
In my house we tend to avoid any discussion about the length of the fast and the heat of the summer. Many parents are not sure whether they should encourage their children fast. To some extents it depends on the child themselves and their capability, but even more it depends on the parents and them maintaining a positive disposition towards fasting. Children will see their parents as role models and seek to imitate them knowingly or unknowingly. Hence it should not come as a surprise that if you are fasting and excited about fasting then your children will be as well.
Depending on the child’s age, they should be encouraged to fast as much as they can. Two years ago when Rumaysah was 5, she decided that she wanted to fast in the last 10 days of Ramadan. So we agreed with her to fast one day and leave one and so on. She completed about 4 fasts that year. Last year she decided that she wanted to fast the whole month. We agreed and masha-allah she managed to fast the whole month. Too often parents will discourage their children from fasting, thinking that they are too young. Often they may wait until the child becomes physically mature and the fasting becomes obligatory. For a child that has never fasted or been encouraged to fast, Ramadan will appear, not as a mercy, but as a fear.
Amr ibn Shu’ayb narrated from his father that his grandfather said: The Messenger of Allaah (blessings and peace of Allaah be upon him) said: “Teach your children to pray when they are seven years old, and smack them (lightly) if they do not pray when they are 10 years old, and separate them in their beds.” (Abu Dawud)
Although this advice is related to prayer, it is sound advice and a similar approach could be applied to fasting, i.e. 3 years to build the correct mentality in the child and for them to become accustomed to performing all the obligations whilst the pen is still lifted.
Rumaysah is now 7 and after last years’ experience, our discussions have been less about the fasting and more what she would like to eat for suhur and iftaar. Then comes the ‘big’ shop so we can buy the foods that she likes so that breaking of the fast can be a joyous occasion for her.
Fasting as a family is important in creating the correct atmosphere, even if it does break the ‘normal’ bedtime routine. Waking up as a family for suhur, even involving the little ones that you don’t expect to fast; all helps build the love and collective spirit of Ramadan. Nusaybah, last year would always look forward to suhur and would make intention to fast. Most days she would get to about lunchtime before she decided she had fasted enough. But we always encouraged and praised her for whatever she was able to do with little statements like ‘Allah will be so happy with you that you fasted half the day’. By the end of Ramadan she had kept two full fast, which, if any of you know Nusaybah, was a massive achievement.
Ramadan – an educational experience
Ramadan is an ideal time to build in the child essential Islamic concepts such as seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt). In the society, children are constantly bombarded with ideas such as ‘what’s in it for me’. Clothes are worn to make ‘me’ look good, toys are for ‘me’ to play with, and eating is for ‘my’ pleasure. We live in a society where the concept of Allah (swt) is non-existent, so there is no motivation to seek the pleasure of Allah (swt). It is important that we build in ourselves and our children, that we have been created to worship Allah (swt) and not worship our own desires.
During the day we forsake the desire of eating and endure hunger to gain the pleasure of Allah (swt) and during the night we forsake sleep and endure tiredness for the pleasure of Allah (swt). In return our hunger pangs and our heavy eyes will act as witness for us on the Day of Judgement.
Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
Fasting and the Qur’an will intercede on behalf of Allah’s servant on the Day of Judgment: Fasting will say, “O my Lord! I prevented him from food and desires during the day, so accept my intercession for him.” And the Qur’an will say, “O my Lord! I prevented him from sleeping by night, so accept my intercession for him.” The intercession of both will thus be accepted. (Ahmad)
Ramadan shows us that, in Islam we need to be slaves to Allah (swt) and not our desires. Life will throw at us numerous situations where our personal interest and Islam are in direct conflict. Ramadan is the ideal time to build that Islam should dominate in those situations. This will help our children deal with the complexities of life.
Last year, we tried to make a special effort for Ramadan and incorporate activities for the children that would help educate them, as they were at an age where they could appreciate more. So the month started with making moon catchers and heading out to Lickey Hills to look for the moon of Ramadan. It is important to build within children the Islamic mentality, we act in response to the command of Allah (swt). In this case, applying the hadith of sighting the moon to the reality. Throughout the month, my wife ran a Ramadan project with the kids complete with lap book and Ramadan calendar. Through this we were able to build some of the essential ideas about Ramadan, such as the rules and rewards of fasting. We made effort to attend the masjid as a family. Taraweh would be too much for the children, especially because of the timing, but I took Friday’s off work so that we attended Jummah together. The collective atmosphere, recitation and making dua left an impression on them. We also encouraged them to help with iftaar by cooking and giving food to our Muslim and non-Muslim neighbours. With the non-Muslims we got them to explain to them about Ramadan and sharing, thus giving them a taste of dawah.
Children are naturally inquisitive and they love to learn. It is important that they gain an understanding about Ramadan in a fun and engaging style. As parents we still need to engage with our children during Ramadan. It shouldn’t be a case of sitting the in front of the TV, out of my way so that I can concentrate on ‘me’ time’. Our children are our amaanah, we need them to gain from the blessings of the month and that requires us spending time with them and not isolating ourselves. Children should not be viewed as a burden in Ramadan. A child’s likes and dislikes are shaped during the early years. Faatiha, my youngest, was almost 2 during Ramadan, but she remembers the moon sighting and singing the ‘Ramadan moon’ song. Raising and educating our children is an obligation and so is a form of ibaadah. In Ramadan the reward for the good deeds is multiplied manifold, so spending time with our children and building their Islamic personality is a worthy task for this month.
Last year’s project culminated in a small video presentation which can be viewed here:
In essence, parents need to embrace Ramadan and as a result their children will learn to love Ramadan. Ramadan provides us with an ideal opportunity to connect with Allah (swt). It is a reminder that in life we submit to Allah (swt) during hardship and ease. If planned and executed correctly, Ramadan can act as a means by which the family strengthen each other in seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt).
Life is a long and testing journey for which we need provisions. Ramadan and fasting provides us with the provision of taqwa, which given the current negativity that surround Islam, is an essential provision.
For myself, I have always considered Ramadan a special month and now that my family is growing up and we are all maturing in Islam, I am starting to gain an extra sense of excitement. Allah (swt) has presented me with Ramadan as an opportunity, not only to seek forgiveness, but also to build the my ‘3 little Muslimahs’ into the type of personalities that will be an asset to the Ummah.
I’m getting that Ramadan feeling and I pray that you all are getting it too!!!!!!