By Muneezah Jawad
Growing up in Dubai, one could simply not miss the arrival of Ramadan – it was evident in street decorations, in grocery store sales, in schools and just about everywhere else.
My parents didn’t have to make too much of an effort to make sure I understood its significance. For one whole month, the whole country got into the Ramadan spirit. Restaurants closed all day and were open all night. No one was allowed to been seen eating out doors during daylight hours or you would be fined. Offices had shorter working hours. My school had a special room for the non-fasting kids to go to during lunch hours and those fasting would be allowed out of gym and physically exhausting activities. All in all, the world revolved around us and Ramadan.
I love Canada and feel blessed to be in a country with such a large Muslim population. Mosques, Islamic schools and halal restaurants can be found at every corner! However I feel that my children are missing out on the nuances of Ramadan. It needs to be celebrated because here is a joyous month where our good deeds are multiplied and people strive to be the best version of themselves.
For a lot of us, what made Ramadan special was the atmosphere and our families. Since most of us have left family behind and our routines do not change here, how do we ensure our children eagerly await and participate in Ramadan as we did?
In the kitchen
All children love to cook. From chopping, dicing, mixing and laying the table, involving the children in preparation of the food achieves many things. It shows them that both women and men should work in the kitchen. There is no stigma in it. It also encourages team work amongst even the most squabbling of siblings. It teaches them to resist temptation and makes it more challenging by handling food and not being able to eat rather than just sleeping through the day. It makes them feel genuinely needed – honestly, with the long summer fasts we are having I am grateful for an extra set of hands to peel a few potatoes and they can see they were really being useful.
Ramadan menu for Iftaar and Suhoor is always different than other months, we make special food and snacks. In our house these include samosas, pakoras and rolls. These deep fried delicacies rarely show up during other months and children love them and look forward to it eagerly each year.
One thing that I particularly missed is neighbors sending us Iftaar. Almost every other evening a half hour before sunset the doorbell would ring and my dad would bring in a tray the neighbor had delivered filled with goodies. For the past two years I have taken to sending Iftaar out to our Muslim friends who are nearby. Iftaar distribution day is an eventful one for us with the kids running around, helping package dates, filling up and labelling food containers and arranging them in trays. Then we pile into our car two hours before iftaar and kids deliver the meals. It teaches them the joy of sharing food in Ramadan and also about how to love and take care of others.
We all know that all our good deeds multiply during this blessed month. This is the perfect time to teach children how to give to the needy and appreciate what they have. My children are encouraged to donate their pocket money to the mosque. We go on weekly grocery shopping trips and load up on staples like rice, oil and flour, then we go fill up an empty food bin for one of the Muslim organizations. Something about watching an empty food bin fill up makes their eyes light up. When I tell them how many families it will feed they are astonished and humbled.
Charity does not have to be about money. It could be about donating your time. We spent an entire afternoon at the ISNA mosque preparing 520 Ramadan food hampers for their food bank. Four hours of standing continuously doing physical work while fasting and my children didn’t complain once. They were so dedicated and determined. When the job was done and they saw the mass of food hampers they helped create, their pride in themselves could not be contained.
Ramadan is the month where the Quran was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) for the first time. It is a time for us to strive to strengthen our faith. Those who are not diligent in prayers make sure to fulfill their religious obligations. People go to the mosque for taraweeh and tahajjud. They stay up nights praying and reading the Quran. They pray incessantly and ask for Allah to forgive them and bless them.
A pleasant difference I have found here from Dubai and even Pakistan is that women go to the mosque. I had never stepped into a masjid in Dubai for the purpose of praying. Here we try to go for Jumuah prayers every week. During Ramadan, there are babysitting services for younger kids to facilitate mothers who want to go for taraweeh. There are numerous camps and courses for children of all ages at the mosques. Introduce your children to the mosque and make them familiar with it. Have them volunteer at the community iftaars or even take down some food during iftaar time and open your fast there and share your food with the others. Take them late during the last 10 nights. Explain to them their significance and show them the people standing all night in prayer. The mosque is alive and aglow those nights.
At home devote time to pray, sit and read the Koran together. Pick a Surah from the Koran and explain its meaning and relevance. Close or limit TV time and instead play games revolving around Ramadan. Make this month different from your regular routine and take advantage of the fact that the kids are off for the summer. A lot of nights my children have stayed up till suhoor just to play around and then slept in till 1 pm. It is all about making it fun, making it special so that every year they look forward to it.
We have to make the extra effort to make sure our children grow to love Ramadan and don’t see it as a hindrance to their activities. They have to feel pride at their participation and they have to understand why it is an important month. It is our job as parents to fill in the gap that living in Canada has created and to enhance the opportunities it has given us to fulfill our religious duties.
About the author:
Muneezah Jawad is the Social Media Manager at MuslimMoms.ca.