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Preparing A New Generation For The Ramadan Fast

  • Farangis Najibullah

A Pakistani family waits to break their fast in the compound of the Mughal-era Shahi Mosque on August 3.

A Pakistani family waits to break their fast in the compound of the Mughal-era Shahi Mosque on August 3.

As Atiya joins her family before sunrise to partake in a Ramadan breakfast, she is well-aware that it will be the last opportunity to eat or drink for the next 16 hours.

The 9-year-old's participation in the dawn-to-dusk fasting that accompanies the Muslim holy month is a right of passage for Atiya, and an opportunity for her mother, Shukriya Hassas, to reinforce the foundations of Islamic teachings.

"I tell them abstaining from food and drink is not enough. There is more to Ramadan," Hassas says in the family home in Kabul's Chil Sutun neighborhood. "If you're not nice to your neighbors, if you offend others with bad words or bad actions, your fast doesn't count for anything."

Hassas says she tells her children "that it's about becoming a better person and that good habits learned during Ramadan should stay with them for the rest of their lives. It's part of the upbringing of children in Muslim families."

It is common practice for Muslim parents like Hassas to plant the seeds of self-discipline, charity, and understanding during celebration of Ramadan.

For Akila Wasil's family in Kabul's Karte Parwan neighborhood, Ramadan is a time of celebration highlighted by get-togethers with relatives and guests sharing Iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal.

"My kids love it because they have fun with their cousins," says Wasil, who is bringing up five children between the ages of 9 and 18.

Bringing Children Along Carefully

Many Muslim parents use Ramadan to teach their children lasting lessons of self-discipline, charity, and understanding.
Children are generally exempt from fasting until they reach puberty, but sometimes parents let their young kids participate in the fast to prepare them for their future religious obligations.

Wasil and her husband have decided to let their youngest son fast for several hours a day so he can learn the ritual step-by-step.

"My son finds it exciting when we put the food on the tablecloth every evening and count the last remaining minutes to break our fast," Wasil says. "He wants to be a part of it."

Wasil says she watches her son carefully during the daylight fast to ensure he does not suffer from dehydration or faint from hunger.

"I decide on my children's fasting depending on their physical condition and also on their willingness to fast," she says. "I never force them to fast. I think from the Shari'a point of view, [forcing them to fast] is a sin."

Mawlawi Abdul Samad, a mosque imam in Kabul's Khushal Khan Mina area, says parents have a responsibility to teach their children about Islamic duties during Ramadan, including fasting and focusing on good deeds.

However, he adds that "Parents can let their 7- or 8-year-old children try to fast only when it doesn't harm their physical well-being; doesn't harm their health. If fasting has a bad effect on their health or weakens their bodies, [they should stop]. From the Islamic point of view, there is no obligation for them to fast."

Learning To Be A Good Muslim

Ramadan, which arrives 10 to 12 days earlier every year in accordance with the Islamic calendar, falls this year in the heat of the summer in South and Central Asia.

Fasting during Ramadan is not an obligation for children.
In the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where temperatures are hovering around 35 degrees Celsius, getting through the day without food or drink is an immense challenge.

Gulkhumor Saidova, a mother of five, has worked out a special "timetable" for her 12-year-old son, who is fasting for the first time.

"I tell him to sleep for a few hours during the day, and we have also invested in an air conditioner to keep our flat cooler," Saidova says.

As in the rest of the Muslim world, her children are looking forward to Eid al-Fitr, the religious festival that marks the end of Ramadan.

It's traditional for children to receive gifts during the festival, when families wear new clothes and prepare special meals to celebrate Eid with neighbors and relatives.

To emphasize the values of Ramadan once again, it is obligatory for Muslims to donate money for the poor at Eid so they too can celebrate.

"My children can't wait for Eid, they say it's the time to get rewarded for learning to be a good person," Saidova says.

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