My son’s iman blows hot and cold like the British weather, so when he announced that he was going to fast in Ramadhan, I felt an inward groan coming on; on the one hand, I was pleased at his enthusiasm, but on the other, I could foresee him giving up halfway (using the “I’m still a minor” card) and causing me a lot of disappointment. I decided to make his fast so enjoyable that he would be driven to succeed.
The week before
I told him that if he made it to Maghrib he would have a feast fit for a king. A week before Ramadhan started, we put our heads together to make a menu for the special iftar and by the end of it he was salivating with anticipation. We had come up with appetisers, mains and desserts – all homemade, all his favourites. Smoked turkey sandwiches, beef burgers, chicken nuggets, fries, spinach pizza, raspberry ice cream and chocolate melt – he couldn’t wait. I stuck the menu on the fridge door where it was clearly visible to him, a reminder of what to look forward to.
The day before
I kept the mood light and made sure he had a fun and easy day. I know how bleary-eyed and frazzled he gets with too much screen time, so the rule was, no TV and no computer games. I replaced all that with board games like Pictionary and Monopoly, card games like Uno and Memory and tried n’ tested games like Name Place Animal Thing and Twenty Questions. I made sure I didn’t have any prep to do for the next day so that I could really spend time with the kids. Of course, me being me meant I couldn’t let the day pass without some sort of meaningful event, so we had a halaqah after ‘Asr – me, my kids, my sister and her kids. We all talked about our goals for Ramadhan and what we hoped to accomplish and achieve, no matter how small or big. We all committed to making one resolution at least, whether memorising one du’a per week or even just one surah in the entire month.
While I had planned an early night so he could wake up rejuvenated for suhoor, he was too excited to sleep and I didn’t want to come on too heavy with rules and regulations, so I let him stay up.
My parents had this one in the bag. They took him to his favourite restaurant for suhoor and let him eat till he was stuffed. Two burgers, large fries, a vanilla milkshake and a large chocolate brownie later meant he was off to a happy and satiated start. They went to the masjid for Fajr and then he fell asleep with a smile on his face.
The big day
I hate the way many Muslims spend their entire fasting day half comatose, afraid to lift a finger lest they break into a sweat and can’t have a drink to cool off. So I had sky-high hopes of my son being productive even when fasting. Of course, once I came back down to earth and reminded myself that he was still a child, I was able to accept the inevitable: he was gonna sleep till Dhuhr. No problem; my sister and I had already planned a fasting party to keep the kids’ minds off food. With an interactive halaqah, a quiz with prizes, a recitation session and games, we packed in enough to keep the kids busy for a good 3 hours. We had Islam-orientated games like Qur’an Challenge, an Islamic-themed treasure hunt and good old-fashioned party games like Pin the Crescent on the Mosque. Lots of prizes ensured enough incentives to continue his fast.
As soon as the adhan for Maghrib went off he turned into a monster truck, gobbling everything in his path. Of course, after all that he was doubled over in pain, much to the amusement of his cousins and aunts. He actually prayed Maghrib bent over, clutching his stomach, probably counting the seconds till he could say the tasleem and dive into the nearest bathroom.
I guess I did succeed in making his first fast one to remember!
Top Tips for a Successful First Fast
1. Remember the age of the child – a younger child might appreciate the gift of a toy teddy as his ‘fasting buddy’ while an older kid might want something different to mark the occasion.
2. If your child wants to spend his entire fast playing with his console or watching TV, compromise: the number of hours he spends learning via halaqah time, Islamic quiz, quiet reading, etc. is the same time he gets playing on his Xbox. If he doesn’t do well on the quiz, take away 10 minutes from play time and if he excels in his quiz add an extra 10 minutes as a reward.
3. Slow and steady works better in the long run – even if your child is enthusiastic about fasting the whole month, gently suggest fasting on alternate days to avoid burnout, especially if the days are long. If he insists, let him find out for himself if he can cope.
4. Taraweeh – if your child is feeling drained, suggest doing taraweeh on the days he isn’t fasting, so he fasts one day and does taraweeh the next day. Another way is to leave taraweeh for weekends only, especially if the child is very young. You can also invite one of his friends along to taraweeh and remember to take snacks for them!
5. A support network is valuable to ensure that your child doesn’t give up halfway; try to surround him with relatives and/or friends for his first fast.
Safia Athar is a mother of two with a background in graphic design, interior design, fine art and creative textiles. She loves painting, writing, reading and baking and says “When I grow up, I will be an artist and a writer.” Watch this space.