I wrote this post two weeks ago, prior to the recent changes and “social distancing” as a result of the Corona Virus. Unfortunately this creates some major uncertainty about the future and what Ramadan will look like. In all likelihood, it will be drastically different from Ramadan’s we are used to. Possibly no tarawih prayer at the mosques and no community iftars. I debated changing this post entirely since many of the ideas may no longer be relevant to this year’s Ramadan, but have opted to simply add some ideas. Inshallah the ideas will be used in future years of Ramadan, may Allah grant us many more years of worshipping Him, and protect us all. Ameen. —
Some of fondest memories I have from my childhood are from the holidays. In our culture there were many of them: Valentines Day, Easter, birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas. My mom was really quite exceptional at making the holidays special. We had so many traditions for each one. It was exciting and fun and we looked forward to each holiday every year. Having experienced such special times as a child, when my own children came along, it was high priority for me that they experience similar feelings. Of course this meant creating new ideas and traditions of our own because the Islamic holidays are different from what I grew up with.
Initially, it was “easy” because they were too young to really understand what Ramadan and Eid was all about. Once my oldest turned 3, I really began to brainstorm about what I wanted our family traditions to be. Some of these were just a given because of the amazing community we were living in. The mosques were always active and family-focused and in Ramadan this was even more so. We would go to the mosques nightly for iftars with other families. Then we would stay and pray the tarawih prayer. If the kids were crying, they would go off to a room and play, or I could step away and nurse them. They would run in between the isles of the prayer, and eventually fall asleep. Come Eid, the whole community was together, men, women and children, all at the mosque for the prayer. The Muslim community even rented a sports stadium so the community could come from all over the city to pray together in one spot. Thousands of people in fancy clothes, kids face-painted… and after the prayer there were amusement park rides, special foods, booths selling toys and clothes. Families would spend the day at the Eid celebration catering to their children and making a day to remember. It was such a wonderful day, and so full of joy.
When I moved to Turkey, I couldn’t wait to spend Ramadan in a Muslim country. I remember thinking that if Eid was so special in Canada, surely it was going to feel magical in Istanbul. I was devastated when Eid came around. Only the men went to the mosque. I had bought special clothes for my kids, but there were no festivities or fairs. We spent the day with family, alhamdulillah, but it didn’t feel different than most other days. I was devastated. It was really at this moment that I really committed to making the two Eids special for our children. As a community we complain that we are “losing our kids” or that our children aren’t taking an interest in our religion. It is time that we own up to the fact that we have a responsibility in that. Of course our children are going to be interested in other religion’s holidays when they are full of candy, decorations, lights, gift-giving, delicious foods, and community involvement. If I am honest, there is no reason, and no excuse, for us to not be making our Muslim holidays just as special. If we want our children to love Islam, we need to give them a reason to. This is especially important when our children are young and impressionable, and they aren’t old enough to appreciate the beauty of the faith for what it is as a whole. So, all of that being said, here are some of the ideas that we do or have done in our home over the years to help “bring Ramadan to life”.
The first thing we do is decorate. Now let me start by saying, that decorations do not have to be expensive. Work with what you have, and don’t get discouraged by Pintrest and all of the other fancy pictures you see online. What is important is that you are putting up something, and doing it with your children. Make a banner, cut out lots of stars and hang them from string around the house, make a sign for the front door, create a reading nook full of Ramadan children’s books in a common space in your house. A simple Google search of “Ramadan crafts” will give many ideas. Choose some of your favourites and dedicate some time to transform your home. Start preparing things now so you don’t feel overburdened. Gather all of the items that you have made, then in those final days before Ramadan. Choose a day and put everything up WITH the kids. Ask for their input and ideas. The idea is that they get involved. We want to make memories with them, as well as a beautiful space that they can be excited about.
Create a “Ramadan Countdown”. This is a fun and interactive activity that in my experience the kids really enjoy. I made a countdown from art paper when my first child was 3, and it is still the one that we use every year. I thought of 30 images that made me think of Islam (usually ones I could connect to a hadith or ayat) and made small cards. Each day the kids pull one out and we hang it up and discuss it. Over the years we have added small treats and candies to each day, but we have always used the cards. It guarantees that we discuss something about Ramadan/Islam daily. Of course, you can just hang numbers, or make a sign where you change the count daily. Find the idea you like the most and do that. Of course the more interactive, the more the kids seem to enjoy it.
Have a pre-Ramadan party. I think this is really important in getting excited for the month. In the past, we have invited friends and neighbours, although this year, that may not be possible. Even if you cannot do it with others, still do it for the sake of your kids. Create a theme, read Ramadan stories, play a trivia game… The important thing is that the kids understand the party is to celebrate the coming of Ramadan. It is important to do this before the month starts so the kids can have food and fun and not worry about fasting. It is also a great opportunity to do some crafts to prepare what I like to call “Busy Bags” (these can also be gift bags friends take home.) Busy bags are bags full of activities that your children will take to the mosque with them for tarawih. Quiet activities that will keep them busy if they don’t want to pray while you do. I usually try to include colouring sheets (Ramadan themed), new crayons, playdough, a book to read, a rubix cube or some kind of similar game, travel games (chess/mangala), small cars or dolls… You know your child best, but the key here is variety (they bore quickly), and that it is quiet. Also remember to put enough in your busy bags to share. Print extra copies of colouring sheets, have an extra container of playdough, there will always be another child wanting to play. The other amazing thing that will happen inshallah, is that your child will want to go to the mosque because they will be looking forward to playing with new friends. They will start to form their own community. For that specific reason, take the moment to discuss with your child that you are making extras to share. This is important particularly if your child is one who doesn’t like to share his/her possessions. The other thing that I like to do, is only give them the bags when we are going to the mosque. During the day they can have other items to play with and things to do. This help keeps the bag ‘special’ and prevents the novelty from wearing off. We also include a prayer mat in the bags. We have made homemade ones in the past, that the kids have been able to paint and personalize. A special tesbih is also a good idea, and you could even give them the beads to make their own. Again, this year there may not be trips to the mosque, but I encourage you to make the bags and let the kids have them when you pray tarawih at home. Encourage them to pray a few rakahs with you, but then allow them to play quietly around you. They still see you pray and the items create a special memory. Consider making some for neighbours instead of bringing extras to the mosque.
I mentioned in my previous post about Ramadan, the importance of preparing journals and reflections. I also prepare a daily reflection for my kids. There are some ready-made versions you can find online (muslimhomeschool.com cocukveislam.com) or you could just take a notebook and do something different daily. Of course the latter takes more planning on your part, but my experience has been that the kids usually enjoy it more. Our most successful journals have been the ones that are blank pages that the kids can be really creative with. Each day, I give them a topic (usually connected to the countdown card they pulled that morning) and then they make a picture for that day. At the end of the month we have a beautiful book full of their artwork, that they can sit and talk about and share. We always keep the journals and look back at them. As your kids get older, you may choose to do more Quran-focused journaling. Choosing a specific ayat to discuss and decorate. The point of the journal is that you are taking time with your children to discuss the meaning of Ramadan and then give them an opportunity to process there experiences/ideas/thoughts in a way relevant to them.
Make cookies, or cards to celebrate Ramadan and share them with neighbours and guests. When babies are born I see chocolates and gifts handed out to everyone. Create something similar for Ramadan. Again, don’t feel like you need to spend money. Bake a special cookie, with a note that says “Welcome Ramadan”. Hand out dates in a small package with the hadith about the breaking fast with dates. This is a way to connect with your community and encourage generosity in your children. It is also an excellent opportunity to educate non-Muslims about Islam in Western countries, in a way that is often welcomed. Make sure you remember to share these items with your mail or water delivery person, the security guard, and others we often overlook on a day-to-day basis. Go even further and find those in need in your community and physically take your children to gift/feed them.
If your children are just beginning to fast, encourage them. Make a poster with stickers for them to count how many days they have fasted, praise them in front of other adults, tell them how proud you are of them. I can’t say this enough. Praise your children. Our Prophet was so merciful, particularly to children. We need to emulate his character. Encourage fasting half days or weekends for younger children. Have activities planned to help pass the time. It will help them forget about hunger and is a way to keep the “feeling” of Ramadan alive throughout the month. Again, there are so many ideas online. Find something that you and your kids like, and spend an hour with them.
Now, this next one is big one for many parents, particularly in a month when we are more tired than normal…Try to turn off (read ‘get rid of’) the television, tablets, video games for the month. If you are considering reducing screen time, this is an excellent chance to go for it! If you plan well and have other activities, special books, gifts, baking etc. to do with your children, it will fill the void of the TV. Additionally, most children will understand the reasoning behind it if you sit and discuss why you would get rid of the TV for the month. Tell them you want to focus more on making memories, creating traditions, worshipping Allah, going to the mosque, serving our communities. Look at is a challenge. After the first week, the kids will adjust and you will see a difference in your children. To share my own personal experience, since having children, we have never had TV/tablets/video games in our home, and I always notice a difference in behaviour when our kids come from somewhere and have been using screens. They are grumpy, short tempered, and it is like they have forgotten how to entertain themselves. When screens are taken away, creativity flourishes and the kids find other things to fill their time with.
Allow your children to host an iftar for their friends. Let them make invitations, allow them to choose the menu. Make sure they help prepare the dinner. Let them use fancy dishes. If your child doesn’t want the parents there, respect that. Let it be their special night. I mentioned last week that I think it is very important to attend Tarawih, and not miss it for the sake of iftars. So, allow your child to host the dinner, but encourage everyone to go to the mosque together for Tarawih (or at least part of it) even if they come back after for tea. Our children need to feel like there is a way to have friends (their most important priority, especially as teens) and Islam exist in the same space. These kinds of activities are perfect to nurture that. Perhaps for this Ramadan, in light of the social distancing we need to adhere to, allow a “virtual” iftar. Children can Facetime or Skype in other friends while they eat. Or allow your kids to send food to their friend’s homes since it may not be possible to be together physically.
Lastly, get ready for Eid and celebrate in a way your kids will remember. Go out with them and help them buy gifts for siblings, (or this year let them shop online with you). Let them make cards. Allow them to choose a special cake and have them help make it. Change the house decorations when Eid arrives. Make Eid a big deal. Our kids need to feel that this day is special, and that it is just as wonderful as Western holidays. Spend time preparing fancy clothes the night before, bake special foods… Go somewhere and do something that is special on that day. Create memories. Let me say that again… Create memories. That is what all of this is for. You are trying to create those feelings of joy, love, excitement, and anticipation for your kids. Something so special that they will look forward to Ramadan every year. That they will understand and feel the holidays in Islam, and not feel like they are missing out on anything. When they meet their non-Muslim friends, see holidays on TV, or travel abroad later in life, they won’t feel like they missed out. They will be able to share all of the special memories they have from their childhood, and inshallah they will share them with pride.
Remember, as with anything, it takes effort, but it is worth it. Make your intention for the sake of Allah. Look online for inspiration, but don’t compare yourself to others. What is important is that you are doing your best with whatever you have. Homemade may not look as nice as some of the things in stores, but I assure the memories you make with your children will beautify anything. Also, let me say it is never too late to start. Your kids are already teenagers? So what?! Start now. Ask for their input about how to make the month special, let them help plan. Ask them who they want to invite over. Surprise them with small gifts. Doing crafts may not be an option anymore, but find ways to connect with them. The other thing is, don’t stop decorating or doing traditions when your kids get older. My experience has been (from my own life, and from others I have talked to) even if teens act uninterested, the tradition is still important somewhere inside them. If you stop and show it is no longer important, that will transfer to your children. Keep the traditions alive. Eventually your children will do them with their children, and you with your grandchildren. One day you will be able to know you did your best to bring life to Ramadan for your children inshallah.
Ya Allah, make Islam real for our children. May they love it and cherish it and look back on their memories with fondness. May our efforts be counted on our scale of good deeds when we meet Allah. May our efforts be a means for our children to fall in love with Islam. May it be a way that they love Islam and never feel like they are ‘missing out’ on anything. Give us energy this Ramadan, and may we come away from the month as better parents, as better Muslims, and stronger in faith. May we use this time of “social distancing” to come closer to You, to prepare for an amazing month of worshipping You and to prepare incredible things for our children. Keep us healthy Allah. Protect our communities. Bring healing to those who are ill, and comfort to those who have experienced loss. Allow us to see many more Ramadans, and accept our deeds. Ameen