Back home in Libya normally kids don’t go to school during Ramadan, that makes it a lot easier to be able to enjoy the month all together as a family, because we can stay up later and go back to sleep after fajr. But here (and in some Muslim countries now) kids go to school, and our work schedules don’t change much during Ramadan, so instead of adjusting life to our fasting, we have to adjust our fasting to the rest. So many kids don’t fast, it’s too hard for them, especially when they see everyone else around them eating and having their usual energy, there’s little support for them to fast outside of the home. My oldest doesn’t have to fast yet, but I encourage him to complete a couple of days during the week, and the weekend, to get used to it, but I don’t push for it, I realize his challenges are much greater than the ones I faced growing up in a Muslim country. It is important for him to feel that he is growing up and participating in what his parents are doing, so I don’t want to deny him this, but it’s a balancing act. To encourage him I cook the foods he loves for iftar (the breaking of the fast). I certainly am glad that Ramadan is moving closer to winter each year, so he will learn to fast on shorter days, insha Allah (God willing).
The younger kids love the idea of fasting, they try to fast in the morning, but I always pack their snack and lunch just in case they get tired or hungry and want to break their fast. My parents used to tell us that if we fast half a day here and there they add up to full days, and they count as such. We tell our kids the same, and they really try to get in as much as they can.
I try to make special foods for iftar, and the kids love to be able to partake of the dates and milk, it’s a warm ritual that they cherish, and we enjoy it together. In Libya we traditionally serve dates with Bsisa, especially for Ramadan, but also when we fast on other days, and this is something we’re able to get here every year, so that’s a nice little reminder of home, and something special we do. What I cook for Ramadan isn’t what I normally make throughout the year, for example, we have Libyan soup, which we normally don’t eat outside of this month, and I make all kinds of other finger foods that really make the iftar feel like a feast. The younger kids who aren’t fasting also join in for suhoor, but they normally make up for missed sleep after school, when they take a little nap.
Socially we take great care in maintaining close ties with our kids’ friends, our neighbors, and we have some other close friends that we meet throughout the month of Ramadan, sometimes they come over for iftar, other times we go to their place, and sometimes we meet outside and make a zarda (like a picnic social) out of it. Ramadan has been in the summer the last few year, so we can meet at a park, a farm, or a field, and have a barbeque, or a potluck. I personally don’t like potlucks at the mosque, because it can get the mosque very dirty, I don’t like to mix food around the prayer space, but if they have a separate, well organized space for it, I’d be more inclined. So far I’ve enjoyed our potlucks outdoors; it’s very social, and the kids enjoy it too, but I do realize we won’t be able to hold them as Ramadan moves further into colder weather. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there!
When I make something special I always send something to our neighbors, who are Christian, and for Eid I make sure to invite them over to share in the celebration, and that they get some of our specially made sweets to take home with them. We normally don’t invite them for iftar, because it’s very late, and they don’t usually eat at that time, but for Eid, they come in the afternoon, and it works out. I also send food with my husband to the mosque for when they organize iftar for students who live far from their families, my husband breaks his fast with the students, but it’s not a family event. A group of us also does it within our building, once a week we each make something to take to the social room of our building, and the young men who don’t have family to break their fast with, go there and eat together. For families I prefer to keep things at home as much as possible, I find it more manageable that way.
I feel that Ramadan should be an occasion to clear our hearts, and make a clean start for the coming year. It’s nice to have good food, decorations, and social events, and I do take care of all of that, but ideally these should be only complements to what’s going on spiritually. So along with all the practical aspects, we try to instill the virtues of charity, kindness, and respect for everyone, regardless of any differences or disagreements. For this we do regular collections of coins in a charity jar at home, but also at the mosque, where we collect non-perishable food items, clothes, household items and money to distribute among needy families in the neighborhood.
At Saturday school we managed to have the kids’ graduation just before Ramadan, and this year we’re gifting them with a Qur’an reader pen with Qur’an and Hadith books that go along with it, to help the students improve their reading of Arabic and enjoyment of Qur’an studies. We also organized a Qur’an competition to be held right after Ramadan, to encourage all the families who have their kids in the Saturday school to study Qur’an throughout Ramadan together. I also volunteer at the Bereavement Committee of our local hospital, and we do cards during Ramadan for the Muslim families that have used our services, we invite them over for an event on the last Sunday of April to commemorate the children that they lost. They’ll also send volunteers to them during Ramadan to help them deal with their loss during this important month.
Lastly, I just want to mention that there’s good and bad everywhere. Back home everyone is fasting, you can see it on tv, all life revolves around the fact that everybody is fasting, so it all kind of comes together naturally. But here because we’re the odd ones out, we try extra hard to connect with our children and make them appreciate and enjoy the beauty of Islam, and that’s a good thing, because I don’t think we’d be as connected with our children if we could just use the extended family and society as a crutch. I know I talked a lot about cooking, because that’s what we concentrated on back home, and it does make iftar extra special, but I find that here we do things much more purposefully, we spend time preparing ahead to be able to have enjoyable activities that explain the spiritual benefits, and get the kids to fully partake of this holy month. We can’t depend on schools, tv, or society around us to teach our kids about Islam, so we have to take it upon ourselves to convey the spirit and meaning of Ramadan to our kids, and that benefits not only them, but us too, because we become more mindful, appreciative, and create closer bonds with our children through the Deen of Allah, Alhamdulillah.