Written by Yasmine abdeldayem – a Sammamish resident and P4P member .
Ramadan, the most sacred and blessed month in the Islamic calendar, begins today. For 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, millions of Muslims all around the world will abstain from eating and drinking. It’s been jokingly referred to as The Hunger Games on social media.
For observers of Ramadan, this voluntary self-deprivation is the best reminder of all the blessings we have in life. We often take for granted blessings such as being able to reach for a cold glass of clean water wherever we feel the need, or making a mid-day drive-through run to Starbucks. Being freed from the constant thought of feeding the body frees up one’s mind and soul to what’s most important — being truly present. This is what I believe is the ultimate goal of this Godly detox.
Growing up in Cairo, fasting as a child was something we all aspired to do. While not required by our faith to fast until puberty, most kids start to practice much earlier. It gave us a sense of pride to do something that only grownups are required to do.
Four years ago, my seven-year-old son – who moved with us to Washington as a three-month-old baby – asked me why we fast. As I was explaining to him how it makes our hearts more compassionate, he immediately and enthusiastically said he wanted to give it a try as well. I was proud of this desire in him, and did not want to shut it down. It reminded me of the Stanford marshmallow experiment, where researchers tested children on delayed gratification with the promise of a bigger marshmallow. My son’s reward would not be more marshmallow, but something much higher.
My son was a first grader then and we were the only Muslim family in his school. I knew his experience would definitely be different from the one I had as a child. When I was growing up, I practiced fasting with almost every kid in my school. I negotiated with him the same way my mom did with me when I was his age. “How about you have breakfast as early as you wake up in the morning, skip snack time, and then have lunch with your classmates?” He gladly accepted my deal.
I did not have a chance to email my son’s teacher to explain ahead of time. Part of me was worried my son’s fasting at school might not go over well, and as a result, my son might get the wrong impression. I have to admit I was also worried I would be judged as a mother – for being too strict and depriving my son necessary nutrients. I hoped his teacher might not even notice. After all, he was only going to skip snack.
At pick-up time, the teacher asked to speak to me for a minute. He said he noticed that my son skipped snack, and when he asked why, my son explained that he is fasting until lunch. I was about to start my long pre-meditated explanation when the teacher surprised me. He said he was amazed that at age seven, my sweet boy was capable of showing such a great deal of self- control. He called him “noble.”
I will never forget how my son’s eyes beamed with joy. I will always be grateful and thankful for that moment with his teacher. He knew my son was practicing his faith and that in Islam, children are not required to fast. And, he knew that as a mother, I was doing what I believed to be best for my child.
This year marks the tenth year my family and I will observe Ramadan in Seattle. The kids are so looking forward to the late festive dinners (called iftars) with friends on weekends. Moreover, this Ramadan will be special to many Muslim kids, as most of it falls while school is still in session. I hear some of my friends with older kids are worried about how their teenage kids will observe Ramadan on long school days. Others are concerned about safety, especially given President Trump’s statement on Ramadan.
I urge my Muslim neighbors who are observing Ramadan, especially those who are members of Plateaupians for Peace, to include non-Muslim friends in festivities. Share with them what this month means to your family.
For my non-Muslim neighbors, if you know a Muslim family in your kid’s school or in your neighborhood – or even better, if you are a teacher – make it a point to educate all children about what this blessed month means to Muslims in your community. Extend Happy Ramadan greetings.
Below are some resources to aid with that: