Ramadan is a special time of the year when Muslim parents, especially in the West, want children to feel excited about its arrival. It is common in Muslim homes to find a festive environment that demonstrates just what a celebratory month it is.
Welcoming Ramadan with sparkly decorations in our homes and the anticipation of iftar meals with family and friends are some of the things our children look forward to every year. As our children get older, we should seek to infuse these Ramadan festivities with a sense of spirituality that the month seeks to be for all Muslims young and old. Parents seek to balance the material with the spiritual aspects of Ramadan and one way to do this is by revealing the deeper meanings of the traditions and rituals children have come to expect.
Time of Reflection
Children have an innate capacity for a deep spiritual connection to Allah and parents must provide space for this to happen through reflection and pondering.
Ramadan is an opportunity to help children to self-reflect. Children of most ages can begin with the question of “Why do we fast?” Help your children understand that fasting is more than being without food and water. It is a spiritual cleansing that comes through reflecting on our actions, life and creation.
As children get old enough to fast, even for part of the day, they may also connect the pangs of hunger to the less fortunate throughout the world. Children should understand that fasting is not a punishment, but rather it is done willingly for the sake of Allah – It is a personal act of worship.
Older children may also reflect on what it means to forgive and be forgiven. As they enter adolescence, they can begin to reflect on their relationship with Allah and His Mercy. Giving children opportunities to ponder about Allah and providing space for them to develop a personal relationship with Allah will help them gain greater focus and a deeper meaning to the acts of worship performed throughout Ramadan.
Goal Setting for Acts of Worship & Character Development
Ramadan is an opportune time for setting goals so parents should have conversations with their children about the goals they would like to set with regard to fasting, praying and reading Qur’an. Children can keep journals or charts of their goals and achievements throughout the month. The “reward” for achieving their goals should be intrinsically motivated rather than rewarded with gifts from parents. Parents should allow space for their children to connect to their inner consciousness and choose to do good because it is most pleasing to Allah. These goals should also include developing character traits that they struggle with in their daily lives such as self-discipline. Parents can help children identify one or two personal qualities such as patience and responsibility that they would like to work on to improve their character. It is important when setting goals, that children take the lead on the types of achievements they would like to accomplish for themselves and be able to list specific examples such as not complaining as an example of patience or completing all chores without reminders as an example of responsibility. It would also be a great idea for parents to share their own goals with their children, so that personal improvement is a family activity.
Younger children can be reminded that Ramadan is a good time to “practice” their responsibilities as a Muslim. Setting half-day fasting goals or skipping one meal (i.e. lunch or snack time) and breaking fast with the family are all ways younger children can practice fasting and can feel the spirit of Ramadan. Waking children up for Suhur (pre-dawn meal) can be seen as an exciting opportunity for a “midnight snack.” Additionally, asking children to help the family with preparing the iftar and saying the du`a’ (supplication) when breaking the fast are all ways children can be included in Ramadan traditions. It is important that the all of these goals be chosen by the child and not imposed by the parent so that the child can feel ownership and a stronger will for self-improvement.
Sharing & Discussing
As the month dedicated to the Qur’an, Ramadan is a wonderful time for families to read and learn together. Children, young and old, enjoy being read to so swap bedtime stories to include stories of the Prophets and narrations from the Qur’an. Families with older children can share messages from the Qur’an orally and discuss the meaning and its connection to their daily lives. An ideal time for these conversations would be before or after breaking the fast, while the family is together. This can be a family tradition that can extend beyond Ramadan into the rest of the year.
Parents must provide ways to teach their children generosity; sharing with siblings and friends, and giving more during Ramadan. Most cities in the United States have food banks for the poor that always require donations and help packing the food for the needy. At home, families can pack lunches and distribute them to the homeless in their area or to a local shelter. You should encourage your family to volunteer with a homeless feeding in your hometown. One example is a nationwide effort known as Humanitarian Day, organized by the Ilm Foundation. Reports have shown that young adults who collect canned food and donate it personally to recipients instills a deeper connection with the concept of giving and improving others’ lives.
Since Ramadan 2011 is in the summer months before school begins, parents can organize shoe and school supply drives for children in impoverished areas. When children help other children, they develop compassion toward their peers and an awareness of the plight of the less fortunate families in their own communities as well as those abroad. As a way to develop an appreciation for the toys they receive on Eid, families should also participate in Eid toy drives that encourage children to danate new and used toys to the less fortunate.
Prayers & Qur’an
In an effort to deepen their children’s spiritual connection to Allah, parents should encourage their children to pray more and read more Qur’an in Ramadan. As with other goals, it is best to encourage children to set their own daily goals for prayer and reading Qur’an.
For children who generally do not pray or have difficulty praying on time, Ramadan can be the time to encourage personal challenges to complete prayers on time. For children who may not read the Qur’an regularly, dedicate a small amount of time reading the text in Arabic or English with them, so that they can develop a connection to the Qur’an and its meaning. Reading Qur’an should be more than just a ritual for children and they should be helped to understand the message that Allah has given us in the Qur’an. For children older than ten, taraweeh prayers at the mosque should be encouraged. Praying in the mosque will help them feel connected to the community. Again, remember to let the children determine their own goal for taraweeh and do not force them to stay longer than they are comfortable.
Younger children generally do not benefit from taraweeh prayers in the mosque and many times they can be a distraction for parents and other adults who attend the mosque seeking a peaceful place to pray. An alternative for younger children are kid-centered iftars and qiyams at home. Parents can welcome families with small children to their home for the evening prayers and create an exciting experience for the children to pray their taraweeh without feeling like they are distracting the adults. Most children will see these “slumber parties” as nothing more than fun with their friends and family, but we cannot forget that connecting with friends and family is one of the many blessings Ramadan gives us.
Each family is unique and will adopt traditions that fit their family values. While the Ramadan traditions in our homes are largely impacted by culture, we as parents we must make Ramadan a special time for our children too, so that they can experience another opportunity to connect to Islamic traditions and develop deeper spiritual meaning to the rituals of Ramadan.