Millions of Muslims around the world will be celebrating the start of Ramadan this Thursday. Ramadan is considered to be most holy month in the Islamic calendar; it is a month for devout prayer and fasting during daylight. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain why Ramadan is important, especially to children or young people who may have never heard of it before.
We asked some of our Muslim and non-Muslim foster parents how they explain and include their foster child in the festivities of Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Introducing children to the basics of the Muslim faith will be a good place to begin when explaining such an important religious festival. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, it is observed by Muslims worldwide and is viewed as a blessed month.
Ramadan ends after 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon. The start of Ramadan depends on the lunar cycle, it starts with the sighting of the Young Moon and ends with a New Moon. Ramadan will come to an end with Eid Al-Fitr, called ‘the Festival of Breaking the Fast’.
It remembers the month that the Qur’an (the holy book for Muslims) was originally revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Those observing Ramadan will fast every day from dawn until dusk. It is a key element of the Islamic faith as part of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ they make up the 5 things that every Muslim must do.
Explaining each of these to a young person will be a good introduction to Ramadan and the Islamic faith. The Five Pillars of Islam are:
- Shahada (the declaration of faith)
- Salat (prayer)
- Zakat (almsgiving/ giving to charity)
- Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan)
- Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca)
Yusuf, one of our Muslim foster carers explained that, ‘within the Muslim community, we have Madrasa (educational institution for young people- secular or religious). The children learn all about Ramadan, prayers and Quran from the Madrasa. However, from our personal experience we can easily provide information on Ramadan including any question about religion’.
Ramadan for kids might look different depending on what they know already. It’s possible that a young person who has grown up Muslim will be very aware of the Five Pillars, whereas non-Muslim children living with a Muslim fostering family may not know anything about the Islamic faith at all. Explaining these main pillars will give young people a good idea about the religion, and why Ramadan is so significant.
Describe what happens during Ramadan
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims won’t eat or drink during daylight hours, including water. This is referred to as fasting. Fasting is important during Ramadan because it allows individuals to devote themselves to their faith and it also brings them closer to God, Allah.
Many Muslims donate to charity and commit good deeds as this is another of the Five Pillars. It’s a period to reflect on your faith and spend time with family and loved ones.
Including your young people in good deeds, regardless of whether they themselves are celebrating Ramadan will involve them in the festival whilst embracing an act of kindness everyone can relate to. Incorporating fun arts and crafts, making snacks for the evening when you break fast and including children’s friends is an effective way to make learning really engaging.
One of our foster parents Jeanette is a British Catholic and she looks after H, a 17-year-old Syrian Muslim. She is fully supportive of his faith and has planned with him how they will navigate Ramadan in their household.
At Compass we encourage all our foster carers to embrace and support a child’s identity and faith, if they follow one. Ensuring that a child’s faith is upheld can be crucial to preserving their heritage.
Jeanette’s foster son will be joining a WhatsApp group with a Mosque for added support and community during the distancing guidelines because of COVID-19. H has also been provided with a Qur’an, a prayer mat and they have arranged when he will eat his meals when he breaks fast.
Explain who fasts during Ramadan
Fasting during Ramadan is vital for Muslims, as it is instructed in the Qur’an. It’s believed to bring you closer to Allah and it is thought to teach self-discipline and reminds people of the suffering of those less fortunate. Children are not expected to fast until they reach puberty, usually around the age of 14. Others are not expected to fast if you are:
- Children under the age of 14
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Seriously ill
Adults can make up for any of the 30 days of fasting at another time in the year or pay ‘fidyah’ which is a donation of money or food when a fast has not been kept.
If a child has grown up Muslim, it’s likely that they will have been surrounded by family members who fast during Ramadan and therefore are included in observing the month in other ways. More frequent prayer, giving to those in need and celebrating community will be among these.
Often, a lot of young children will want to fast as they want to join in with their older brothers, sisters and parents. If your child wants to join in with fasting, but they are not yet at the expected age, you can accommodate this by:
- Offer to cut out snacks during the day but encourage them to eat their main meals.
- Making sure young people are drinking water throughout the days.
- Suggest that young people fast on the weekend and eat during the weekdays.
This was the case for one of our Muslim foster carers Taibur, who looks after two teenage boys who have grown up within the Islamic faith all their lives. ‘We have said that it is totally up to the boys whether they want to fast. There is always flexibility in Islam and us as foster parents. If a child wants to fast, then we must look into whether it is safe for them to do so.’
Taibur makes sure to contact the children’s social worker to make sure this is safe for them, as Ramadan can fall on longer days in Europe and the weather can get quite hot. ‘They are very religious, and this is something that they have both said that they want to do, so we will support them in that.’
During the month of fasting, it is common to have one meal (the suhoor), just before sunrise and another (the iftar), directly after sunset.
‘We make wonderful food for the evening, it’s as if every night for the 30 days we’re banqueting. It can be hard, but at the end of the day it is fun. It brings us together, as the sun sets, we gather around the table and we break our fast with water and it’s a great experience to share.’
Using positive language whilst explaining Ramadan to your children will also help with the experience. Rather than saying ‘we have to fast’ you could say ‘we want to/will be fasting to show our appreciation for what we have.’
Use examples of other faith to explain Ramadan
Many children will have learnt about other faiths through education or being exposed to other cultures around them. Our Compass foster parent Yusuf told us, ‘my first and current foster child is of Christian faith. He was from a Muslim country, so he was fully aware of Ramadan, the prayers and fasting. I have taken him to the local Christian church, I’ve also sat with him on one Sunday ceremony, group prayer and met his Church Priest and congregation. I’ve learned so much.’
Ramadan as a holy month, for children, can be compared to something like Christmas or Hanukah. It’s a time to think about those less fortunate, spend time with loved ones and reflect on your faith. Lent in the Christian faith has a lot of similarities to Ramadan, a time for self-reflection, self-control and giving up food in order to become closer to God.
Yusuf commented that he has ‘learned a lot from the experience. Respecting religion of one another in fostering, embracing and supporting young people in their faith, as well as within communities is very important- maintaining a foster child’s identity is vital’.
Our foster parent Taibur says that Ramadan ‘is a very beautiful thing, it brings us all together and it means a lot to all of us.’ Ramadan is unique, and so important to Muslims over the world. As our understanding of other traditions and faiths grow, we listen, learn and connection to one another does too.
At Compass we celebrate diversity, our carers come from a wide range of backgrounds, races and faith. We have a responsibility to children to uphold their identity and give them a safe and secure place to live. If you are interested in fostering or have any questions, please get in touch with us. Our team of friendly professionals will be happy to take you through any queries you may have.