For the 3 million Muslim children who live in the United States, this is not the season to be jolly. They are observing Ramadan, the ninth month of Muslims' lunar-based calendar, a time of self-denial.
In the Qur'an, Muslims who have reached puberty are commanded by Allah to fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan in order to achieve taqwa--piety or God-consciousness. The fast commemorates the month in 610 C.E. when Muhammad ibn Abdullah first received his revelation from Allah. It includes abstinence from food, drink, lying, and sexual relations. (Moderate eating and drinking are permitted after sunset.) Ramadan is a period of intense spiritual elevation and social consciousness as the daily pangs of hunger remind those fasting of the poor and the needy. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, observed that her husband was more generous during the month of Ramadan than at any other time of the year. But even with the knowledge that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan, Muslim children in the United States may need a little impetus from their parents to keep the fast. The challenge is much greater this year than it usually is as the ostentatious reminders of the Christmas season are juxtaposed against the relatively silent, socially invisible imperatives of Ramadan. While almost three decades of fasting and encouraging children to fast in this country do not qualify me as an expert, I have picked up a few motivational tips for Muslim parents and other concerned adults. First, however, a word on nutrition: Fasting is a rigorous exercise, even for adults. To safeguard your children's health, remember to increase their fluid intake; and have them eat slow-digesting food such as grains, wheat, and lentils. Avoid fast-burning foods that contain sugar or white flour, and avoid fatty and spicy foods.
*2. Be exceptionally kind, considerate, and generous to family members and others. Children learn the virtues of Ramadan more by what they see and experience than by what adults say. *3. Discuss some interesting aspect of Ramadan--such as the first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad--with your child each day. Be creative. If you run short of ideas, contact Islamic schools, Muslim teachers, or masjids. *4. Join your children in watching age-appropriate videos on Ramadan, or in Ramadan-related art projects. *5. Help the children collect their outgrown or cast-off clothing and take it to a shelter, orphanage, or needy family. *6. Feed the hungry. *7. Decorate the house with reminders of Ramadan and the Eid ul Fitr (Festival of the Fast Breaking) that follows. *8. Plan Ramadan-related activities with your Muslim friends and neighbors. *9. Make a presentation about Ramadan at your child's school. Ask to have a bulletin board at school about Ramadan. *10. Explain the Christmas holiday fervor to your children in terms that they will understand. Finally, even though children below puberty age are not required to observe the fast, early exposure to the disciplines of Ramadan are sure to pay dividends later on in life. If health is a consideration, encourage your child to fast for some portion of the day. Fasting the full period then becomes a goal to strive toward.