I am walking down memory lane, back to the little village in Johor, south of Malaysia where I was born and raised. I recall vividly when Ramadan was in the air, a special time for everyone, especially little children like me, when the daily schedule changed to mark the fasting month. Parents would get out of their way to wake up early to dish out the predawn meal (sahur). Later in the evening, to prepare for the sweetmeats their children were craving for, to encourage them to start fasting.
Ramadan, I learnt early, is a lot of things.
Above all, it’s an opportunity to connect with God. You need to recite the Qur’an even more, reflect on its meaning, work on your understanding, infuse it in your life.
It’s also a time to grow and mend relationships with God’s creations – the people you know who you might have offended willingly or otherwise, you must ask for their forgiveness – and other living beings.
Children are taught that when you give up eating and drinking, it must be done willingly. Also, staying away from food and drink is the physical side, you MUST refrain from hurting others through backbiting, slander or such because your fasting may become invalid and not be accepted by God if you cross the line this way.
Ramadan is about mercy, generosity, making amends, cleansing your heart free of grudges.
The best way is through intrinsic motivation. You feel good because you know you have behaved well and therefore God willing, it will be accepted by Him.
Children are not required to fast before puberty but it’s good to train them early. How long should each child fast varies as each child is different.
For younger children, perhaps they can skip one meal. It’s good to encourage them to wake up for the predawn meal and break their fast (iftar) with everyone else although they are not fasting the whole day, so they can feel the excitement.
When a young child is able to fast, give him the honour of leading the prayer recitation (duaa) at iftar time.
Maybe he can fast some days, then break some days.
Maybe he can fast on weekends, not fast school days, or some schooldays. The idea is, be flexible.
Get them involved in preparing the food and drink for breaking of fast.
Some children really want to be part of it despite the fatigue and would insist on continuing to fast even though their parents ask them to eat something. I have seen several of these cases, some kids as young as five, though I did a full day fast at a later age.
The purpose is to make Ramadan memorable and something they look forward to each year.Build the anticipation and therefore, the desire. It’s about mental and physical preparation.
Diversify the food and drink. You know what your children like and dislike. It’s okay to spoil them a little in terms of choice of food, as long it’s within budget, but overeating is totally out. In fact, the Ramadan buffet that’s common in some cities is against the spirit of the holy month. Adults and children gorge on food as though they haven’t eaten for months and then miss the night prayer. It’s against the essence of Ramadan itself.
Tell your children stories about your own Ramadan as a child. Until now I remember very well what I used to eat and drink during Ramadan. The simplest things could be the most delicious! For example, mine was syrup with ice. We didn’t have our own fridge, so ice had to be bought just before iftar, from the shop 10 minutes away (we would ride our bicycle to get there). The ice block was wrapped in wood shavings and old newspaper to slow down the rate of melting. What fond memories!
The predawn meal was equally exciting because of the “family togetherness”.
Despite the tiredness, hunger and thirst, Ramadan remains one of the best and memorable parts of my childhood.