If your household includes a worldy-wise teen or two, you’ll know Ramadhan is unlikely to be a personal, quiet month. It’ll be a family thing, with the young adults in our lives having the potential to benefit hugely from the purpose and spirit of the month. So how do teenagers anticipate and prepare for the month of Ramadhan? Are they filled with dread, going without snacks and episodes of their favourite sitcoms, or do they have their own way of preparing? I went beyond my own ‘teen’ family to find out what teens from a local Muslim girls’ group were thinking. I had several questions for them and didn’t give them time to prepare answers in advance:
• Do they plan for the month? If they do, what do they do?
• Is there anything going on for them in the community?
• Do they make any changes to their day?
• How do they cope with challenges in and outside school?
• How does the spiritual side of Ramadhan progress for them?
• Does anything change with their ‘www’ relationship?
• What do they enjoy the most and why?
Talking was no challenge at all for this group of six girls aged between 13 and 15 years old! There were ample examples, opinions and experiences they were keen to share. Without any time to prepare their answers, I half expected them to look at me blankly, with an expression of ‘why are you talking about Ramadhan? It’s still April!’ How wrong I was. Here are the highlights of their take on this blessed month.
“Well I wanted to get into the ‘zone’ ‘cos it’s like Ramadan just comes and then you start fasting all of a sudden. So this year, I started fasting on Mondays and Thursdays recently and it’s going alright. It helps.” started one of the girls, setting the bar high!
The rest of the girls explained how they were thinking about Ramadhan and sorting their intention out, making sure they do things that will make them more focused during the month. “I’m going to learn more du’as,’ added another. ‘I plan to change what I read, as I love reading fiction, but I’m thinking about cutting that down for the month and reading more of my parents’ collection of books and reading Qur’an, of course.”
On the highs of the month
All of the girls were unanimous that they looked forward to “the high point of the year… where my true faith comes out.” Maybe this had to do with them volunteering to speak in the first place, as those less excited about the month probably preferred to keep their thoughts to themselves. “I look forward to knowing I’m guaranteed to do Fajr!” volunteered the most vocal of the group, which was followed up with the shared sentiment that one of the most enjoyable aspects for these girls was the increased time spent with the family, particularly for those who went together for taraweeh at the masjid. Communal iftars and regular programmes and lectures featured as the highlights for all the group who talked enthusiastically about the amount of time they spent with other people compared to the rest of the year.
A particular highlight of community activities specifically for them was a youth group in their local masjid that runs discussions and activities they can participate in: “it’s so nice to have somewhere to go and it give structure to your day and we do stuff we can relate to. It also takes your mind off food!”
On the challenges
Time was a particular topic they chose to expand on, particularly gaining more time and changing the way they fill their day. The world of the internet is something this generation of teens were born into and managing it seems to be taken in their stride.
“Yeah, when I get bored, I don’t just switch the TV on, I go on Youtube, there’s loads of really good channels. Some of the Muslim Youtubers are funny and really cool, but there is a message at the end of their video that makes you think”. Watching more Nouman Ali Khan lectures as well as Islamic channels seemed to be other ways they managed their time. One of the girls shared her progression from last Ramadhan to this one: “Last year, me and my sister made a pact: no music in Ramadan. This year, we’re going to add no music and no TV for the month.”
As many teens will be experiencing all of Ramadhan in school term time this year, they all agreed that this was where they encountered some challenges. They described how most of the questions they have faced were answered in the first two years of secondary/high school, adding ‘by the time you get to Year 9, you’ve established your friends and you’ve been through it already so they don’t ask as much. But in the first couple of years of high school, it’s like “what, you can’t even drink water?” and all that.’ Practicalities such as Sports Day generated discussion about how most of them, with high spirits, still participate in less intense sports such as javelin throwing or shot-put.
It is not uncommon, as one girl explained, to get the odd comments, such as “you guys are crazy doing weird stuff like fasting,” to which they all nodded in amused familiarity. In contrast, the focus on the fast by non-Muslims can reap benefits too: ‘I like the special attention I get, I’ll admit it. The teachers are nice and say “wow, how do you do it? You’re so strong.” It’s nice to be special.’
I was inspired by these young adults who certainly weren’t the teens of media stereotype. They looked forward to the month, were confident in why they were fasting and could frankly teach a thing or two to adults!
Suma Din is a teaching professional, freelance writer and researcher. She has authored numerous educational titles for children in addition to writing about women’s and family issues.