By Sana Siddiqui
My memories of Ramadan as a young child in grade school brings back fond recollections of the excitement of sahoor (the period of time before dawn where we can eat to our hearts’ delight), the anticipation of all the good food we’d have to break our fasts, and looking forward to Eid-ul-Fitr and all the gifts we were sure to receive.
But Ramadan also brought forward the annual ritual of explaining the traditions and philosophies to my non-Muslim friends and teachers. It meant missing out on recess snacks, the inevitable sandwich tradeoffs during lunch, and most depressing of all, it meant missing out on any goodies during the birthday or holiday parties that may have taken place during the month. Indeed it was a tough time for all and my heart bled for the weaker amongst the group.
Fasting as a young child while surrounded by non-Muslims friends enjoying their fruit rollups and lunchables (which, let’s be honest, had my mouth watering throughout the year) took grit, determination and a fantastic support team.
One of my fondest memories of Ramadan was the day I kept my first fast (saum in Arabic). The excitement began the night before as I set my alarm to wake before dawn, as I discussed with my sister exactly how much crazier my parents were before the sun came up, and mostly when we created a menu of the delicious items we would have to break our fast.
But I was reminded that fasting and the month of Ramadan was not just about abstaining from food and drink, rather it was about abstaining from bad habits, focusing on the lessons that we’d learned within our religion, and finally on how we could build upon fundamental attributes that would make our lives easier and more meaningful.
It taught us patience, compassion for our fellow man, and to be humble for all the gifts God had given to us. While building that menu of our favourite foods was definitely exciting, it was important not to forget the other vital lessons the month was meant to teach us. What I remember most, and what I believe is fundamental for young children growing up, is the stories and advice my parents would give my sister and I as we would break fast that night.
They would speak about the challenges of the day, their own personal stories from when they were growing up, and focused on the lessons that day’s fasts were meant to teach us. From that, I was able to start a new day of fasting, invigorated and with an understanding behind the struggles I would be facing.
Part of those struggles revolved around the fact that we were raised in a multicultural society, and while it provided a plethora of opportunities to learn and converse about different religions, it also provided its fair share of challenges. Having a sudden interest placed in my beliefs and exactly how different the next several weeks would be was incredibly exciting, however it also proved discouraging when individuals acted harsh or ignorant towards me.
As parents, it is vital to provide your child the support and a foundation of knowledge sothey may emerge from these transactions unscathed. Provide encouragement to your children and more importantly celebrate their accomplishments! I will always remember my first saum was rewarded with a pizza dinner that night, in which I, and only I, was able to choose the toppings. (That my parents don’t reward my first saum of every year with a pizza dinner is quite disappointing, but I digress.)
Ramadan, above all else, is a joyous time of the year and it is important to foster these feelings within our children so they may one day encourage their children to see the light and beauty of the month. As long and tiring as the days may have seemed at the time, I look back at the Ramadans of my childhood with fond memories and I hope to one day instill this same pride and warmth of religion in my children.
It also reminds me to rush out to the nearest grocery store and buy as many fruit roll ups as my paycheque allows!