A Child’s First Fast
Nothing brings families together like the month of Ramadan. It is a time of reflection, unity, peace, giving to the less fortunate and being grateful for all that we have. Although fasting is not obligatory until the age of puberty, watching family members and relatives fast, some children want to participate in Ramadan, as fully.
Haleema Siddiqui has been the principal at Al Ihsan School in Cleveland, Ohio for the last three years. Throughout this time, she has seen many of the elementary students including little kindergartners choose to fast despite the long, hot days.
“The kids will have recess, play and run around, but it will not faze them that they are fasting,” said Siddiqui in an interview with Halal Consumer. “It seems much harder for us grown-ups to refrain from food than for them. They consider fasting to be a fun activity. We give them a special certificate at the end of the month for their effort,” she said.
Siddiqui believes it is important to instill the importance of Ramadan early on in a child’s life. That awareness will create excitement in their hearts and prepare them for fasting full days.
Siddiqui recalls her most vivid first memory of Ramadan: “I was around 5 years old and woke up in the middle of the night. I saw the lights were on in the house, and I heard lots of talking. I got up to see what was going on and saw my older siblings and parents having a meal together. At first I thought I was dreaming. Why would they be up in the middle of the night eating? When they asked me to join them, I realized I was not dreaming and enjoyed this amazing meal, full of dinner and breakfast foods. Afterwards, I went back to sleep along with everyone else. In the morning when I told my 7-year-old sister about it, she refused to believe me. Then I had my mother confirm the event, and that was the first time we learned about Ramadan and fasting.”
Siddiqui, however, did not keep a fast until she was 12 years old. “My father did not think we could fast as children no matter how much we pleaded that we were ready,” she said. “He would tell us ‘when you have to fast, you will.’”
Uzma Abbas is an electrical engineer and mother of three from Ashburn, Virginia. As a parent, she does not enforce fasting at such a young age either. “My eldest daughter Isra, 8, knows about it are but has not said she wants to try fasting herself. I have neither asked her if she wants to nor am I going to encourage her to do it right now,” said Abbas. She feels Isra is too young to realize that she cannot last a whole day without food and drink. “When she realizes she can participate in fasting with us, we will have her do it wholeheartedly. For now Isra enjoys having iftaar (breaking of the fast) with us, which is a good start,” said Abbas.
Many parents wonder when is the right time to teach their kids about fasting. “The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that children should be asked to pray starting at age 7,” said Mufti Azeem, co-founder and principal of Darus Salam Academy in Lombard, Illinois. “Children must get used to the pillar of prayer even before fasting.”
To make an easier transition into fasting, Mufti Azeem recommends children go without food for shorter time frames such as a few hours. “They should know it is not a complete fast, but rather it is helping them get ready for the full length fast,” he said.
Kindergarten teacher Sana Quadri from Chicago has a seven-year-old who likes fasting half-day. Her son, Humzah Syed, has fasted for a few half-days. He almost completed a full fast last Ramadan, but innocently ate a popsicle an hour prior to iftaar.
“This year we will have him try his first complete fast and see how many he can do,” said Quadri. “During his practice fasts last year we kept him busy and stayed out most of the day even allowing him a nap if he seemed tired, which helped pass the time as well,” she said. She also recommends the book Hamza’s First Fast. “That’s Humzah’s favorite book and it has really inspired and encouraged him to try fasting at his age.” No matter at what age a child decides to fast, it is worth celebrating.
Senior investment analyst Numan and his wife Aatifa Ahmed of Bloomington, Illinois, did not realize their daughter, Hannah, who was 7 at the time, was going to complete the whole day’s fast. An hour or so before sunset, she told them she could make it through. To make it special, Hannah broke her fast at the mosque with her friends, and the Imam made an announcement recognizing her accomplishment after the Maghrib prayer.
“Hannah has an amazing support system full of family and friends and community members who encourage and appreciate her as much as we do,” said Aatifa, who is a speech language pathologist by profession. “She and her friends inspire each other, and as a community it is wonderful for kids to be acknowledged for their achievements,” she said. To make their daughter’s fasting even more enjoyable, the Ahmed’s prepared suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, with her favorite foods. Besides nourishment for the day, it was an effective incentive to get Hannah up at that hour. Hannah even helped prepare the food.
Six-year-old Rida Ali from Naperville, Illinois likes to help her mother Deeba Parvez in the kitchen during Ramadan. They bake cookies in the shape of crescents and stars and wrap them as presents for Rida’s teachers and staff at her public school. Each cookie includes a card with information about what Ramadan is.
This year, Rida will attempt to keep her first fast. “We plan to have our family, including her grandparents from both sides and aunts and uncles over, so they can break the fast with her,” said Parvez. “We will make all her favorite snacks for iftaar, decorate the house, and make it a very special day for her,” she said.
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About the Writer: Tayyaba Syed is a public speaker and writer with commentaries on National Public Radio and by-lines in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Chicago Crescent and MBMuslimah.com.