I have always felt that Ramadan brings families closer in a peaceful and joyful way. During our childhood it was perhaps the most exciting month to look forward to. My earliest memory of Ramadan is the hustle and bustle of festivities at home. Everyone eats together, prays together and spends time together. The days are slow, the nights are long and there’s a sense of anticipation in the atmosphere leading up to Eid.
Fast forward to adulthood, I set out to make Ramadan exciting for my kids, while teaching them some empathy along the way. I quickly realized doing this will be quite a challenge, for many reasons, but especially because teaching them religion beyond the Qur’an is something I haven’t actively done in the past. I read to them every day, sometimes fairytales and little autobiographies, but I’ve never brought up religion thinking they’re still too young.
This Ramadan I realized there were a lot of picture books out there on Islam, which teach our values and empathy to children. These books are based on little hadiths or stories from the Prophets – from Noah’s arc to Jonah swallowed by a whale. Children’s picture books, with captivating visuals, can be a great way to introduce or reinforce the concept of Ramadan or Islam to your kids.
I’m big on routines but maintaining a routine in Ramadan while fasting is quite challenging with kids. Meal times have shifted and the kids have started sleeping late and waking up late. This challenge is probably greater for those in non-Muslim countries, because there life appears to go on as normal outside the home or mosque.
With the excitement of summer holidays in full swing, I had to take a step back from my summer to-do list and teach my children about their religion as well as give space and time to the household help.
This year we decided to set the scene and decorate our place for Ramadan! If we can put up a tree for Christmas, why not add some excitement to our home for Ramadan? We decorated a small corner of our house with paper crescents and lanterns and little prayer mats I had gotten the kids from a recent visit to Makkah.
As parents we need to make the effort to bring excitement and joy to the celebration of Ramadan and Eid. During Ramadan, not only should children to be told about the importance of Ramadan, they should see and feel its importance too. What really helped me was ordering a ‘Ramadan for Kids’ kit online. The kit had two books, a salat chart, a countdown to Eid and a few other activities. Something I learned from my own spiritual journey is that joy lies in understanding and enjoying religion – even if it’s at your own pace. So, we started our religious journey this year and the kids learned about good, bad, empathy, calmness, justice, honesty and benevolence.
I wanted my children to understand that Ramadan not only focuses on fasting, prayer and reading the Qur’an but heavily stresses on acts of charity and refraining from bad behavior. Since my children are young, our goals were very simple – reading an Islamic book, donating a toy, helping someone, feeding someone, sharing a snack and helping with chores around the house to give the household help some reprieve.
To help your child appreciate Ramadan, it’s a good idea to start with a plan. This will help them to focus on the month with intention and allow them to set goals. Our goal for the year was to avoid bad deeds and encourage good deeds of charity. Because my children are so young, these are the only goals I can set with them to inculcate a feeling of empathy in them.
My 4-year-old actually got so excited in the spirit of Ramadan that she insisted on keeping her own fast. She was too young for the famous “half roza” so we did one for an hour. I explained to her that while she was avoiding snacks and drinks by choice, there were others out there who had no choice at all. Subsequently, the kids and I spent a great part of the month making Ramadan packages for their friends and for the needy, something we really enjoyed.
Another thing my children really enjoyed was breaking the fast. Whether they are fasting or not, these mealtimes are a chance to get them involved. My 4-year-old helps out by handing out dates. Luckily Iftar in Karachi is at 7 pm, so the children sit down with us and have their dinner, much to their excitement.
Finally, help your child host their very own Kids Iftar! Create a guest list with your kids and suggest items for the menu. Meals that are kid -friendly and easy to prepare will mean your child can help out in the kitchen too. They can also plan the decor, such as the colour for the table setting (paper plates, napkins and cups), and make decorations.
After all, these are the memories that make us nostalgic while growing up!