How a family honors Ramadan at home and shares it with non-Muslim neighbors | training

My elementary school teacher gave me a free lunch menu because she thought I forgot my lunch at home. “Where’s your lunch?” asked the cafeteria monitor. I felt all eyes on me and my throat closed. In truth, my 9 year old mind didn’t know how to explain that I willingly fasted during the holy month of Ramadan. I didn’t know how to explain that Muslims abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset and that I would eat a large meal at sunset. I felt out of place. I felt the tears well up. Why was I the only one fasting? Why didn’t my teachers know that? More importantly, why couldn’t I explain myself?

Dad was called to the principal’s office for an emergency meeting. He explained to the adults in the room that I had to fast for the 30 days of Ramadan (the age at which children start fasting varies). He explained that fasting is about staying away from all bad habits. While Muslims make a point of never engaging in things like wiretapping, stealing, cheating, and more, we take special care to be even more aware of our thoughts and actions while fasting. Fasting also teaches us to be patient and stay close to our families.

The adults nodded and smiled as they listened to him. At the end of the meeting, everyone shook hands and laughed at how glad they were that they didn’t have to call social services. I thought dad would be upset about having to leave work early, but he wasn’t. He was proud that I stood my ground even when I couldn’t explain myself. He even smiled as we walked back to the car.

When I had children, the second generation of my family in the United States, I decided to prepare them for what was to come. I wanted them to be sure of their identity as American Muslims. I wanted to make sure they always feel at home. It’s never easy to be underrepresented because of religion or culture, but people are more aware of the communities around them.

Today my boys aged 10 and 8 are proud to fast during the month of Ramadan. They look forward to decorating the house, 30 days of treats, delicious food, going to the Masjid (or Mosque), baking Ramadan cookies, reciting the Quran and learning more about our culture. They even take pride in sharing Ramadan treats at school. I’m using this month as an opportunity to teach and encourage their natural curiosity.

The author and her family bake goodies to share during the month of Ramadan. | Maliha Abdi

Two years ago our Masjids had to close during the holy month of Ramadan due to the pandemic. Even now, access remains restricted. However, we do listen to spiritual memories from inside the Masjid, both in person and via live virtual streams. As we sit down as a family to break our fast, we discuss what we have heard in the spiritual remembrance and talk about something related to Ramadan in our daily lives. We try to prepare special foods and have spiritual discussions to make a significant difference between Ramadan and ordinary days.

As Prophet Muhammad said, “The most popular act towards Allah is when He sees a family gathered to share a meal.”

We discuss the similarities of Islam to other religions as they help us understand each other. We talk about how some Christian denominations fast and pray for 40 days during Lent and how Jewish people fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Even Hindus fast at special times of the year. On fast days, they begin with a ritual bath, a thorough housecleaning, and a fast that may last all day or include abstinence from salt, oil, and fried foods. Similarly, many other cultures and religions worldwide practice fasting throughout the year. While the duration, practice, and specific reasons vary, everyone has similar goals of empathizing with others and purifying themselves.

Ramadan is a special month for many reasons, including the fact that the Qur’an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad during the last 10 days of Ramadan, called the “Nights of Power.” The purpose of fasting in Islam is to develop the quality of righteousness by abstaining from sinful acts and training ourselves to control our thoughts and desires. It is a deeply spiritual practice that benefits us in body, mind and heart. At the end of the 29-30 days of fasting comes a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims donate to charity, go to morning prayers together, wear new clothes, and give gifts or money, called Eidi. We spend the three days visiting family members, eating together and celebrating.

In this holy and noble month, our every action can become a form of prayer, right down to our breathing and sleeping. We take this opportunity to move closer to our goal of being better people of faith.

A big part of celebrating Ramadan is creating foods and decorations for whole communities to enjoy. Here are a few printable activities I do with my sons and books that families with young children can enjoy during Ramadan.

Ramadan treat bag decorations

These treat bag decorations are perfect for attaching treats to treats filled with things like cookies, sweets or even dates that Muslims usually use to break their fast. Here you will find the instructions and template for the treat decoration.

Ramadan treat bags

These treat bags are great for sharing with everyone! | Maliha Abdi

Ramadan table lanterns

Lanterns are a common Ramadan decoration. These are easy to print out and decorate with children. Lantern step-by-step instructions and a template for the lanterns are available. You can try to decorate them with patterns!

Ramadan table lanterns

These lanterns are a lovely way to add a little light to any table. | Maliha Abdi

Hanging Ramadan Lanterns

This lantern design includes a handle so the finished lanterns can be hung around the house! A step-by-step hanging lantern tutorial and a hanging lantern template are available.

Hanging Ramadan Lanterns

These Ramadan Lanterns can be hung around the house. | Maliha Abdi

Ramadan Book Suggestions

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