Below is a selection from the Q&A, with minor embellishments, following the ‘Ramadan, goal setting and a new look at da’wah’ presentation in Houston TX, Saturday, July 21st, 2012. Also please find the hand-out with selected children’s activities, circulated after the talk, below (following the Q&A). It is important to note at the outset, as indicated during the presentation, I do not have a perfect prescription for childcare/rearing. It is, for me, a daily struggle, and a daily learning. Each parent ultimately holds the unique keys and the understanding for the job inshaa Allah. The goal of the talk was to shed light on the fact that each parent/caregiver actually has the potential to act as a da’ii to his/her family and community, in the Prophetic tradition, especially during the month of Ramadan.
1) How do we reach our children, especially our older children, in Ramadan?
Consider a young woman/older teenager who has demonstrated no interest in the religion and a pronounced interest in computer programming and a fascination with hacking. While Martin Lings’ ‘Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources’ and Tariq Ramadan’s ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet’ are wonderful texts, this may not be the right way to re-start a dialogue. Instead, I suggest picking up the latest issue of ‘Wired Magazine’ and sharing the feature article on ‘Anonymous’ as a way to communicate your own understanding of hacking, including the real perils (and associated punishments). Following, you may be able to introduce another book, namely ‘Alif the Unseen’, by G. Willow Wilson, a recent fiction that, in a Harry Potter-esque way, walks the reader into a fantasy, computer underground. This could prompt a further dialogue about the author, who is a revert to Islam, and an eloquent and clear thinker on a range of deen-subjects, and, who is also featured this month in ‘Azizah Magazine’, which delves into a wide array of issues experienced by Muslim women and could be a further connection and source of inspiration for an older teen. This is just one example (which may/not fit your situation), but the point is that we use the youth’s interests, not necessarily our own, and we start our dialogue from that place, trying to link back to the deen. In addition, if the youth you are trying to reach has her/his own room, simply ask if you may spend time in that space, with him/her. Observe the space; ask questions about what may be on the wall or decorating different parts of the room. What is his/her mode of expression? Try to understand rather than judge what you see. A dialogue is sure to start, and there is also potential to link that dialogue, in a sensitive way, to the deen, but the onus on us, as parents and care givers, is to listen first. I also suggest taking your family out of its norm and consider an iftar in Memorial Park (or a park near to your home). Consider spending an hour in the park before hand. Let nature be a link, among you, and a link back to the deen. The point here is to create a very positive association with iftar and to spend time observing AllahSWT’s extraordinary creations. Tone and how we deliver the ‘message’ is almost everything. Keeping the example of Prophet Muhemmed (SAW) in the forefront of our minds and hearts will inshaa Allah help us all in our efforts. Please note a similar question was raised during the AQO launch discussion which may be of possible interest.
2) I have non-Muslim colleagues at work who ask me how I fast, how I actually go without food and water? I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but how should I respond?
Less is more. I would simply recommend responding, ‘With God’s help’. If they press you on the subject, you could describe the (spiritual) nourishment during the month of Ramadan, i.e. the extra prayers, acts of charity, etc, which are all a sort of soul food. If they press you still further, you may want to share a couple of articles with them. Islamicity is replete with many such articles, but you may want to excerpt/tailor to ensure the tone and language is in line with your specific da’wah effort. I have received these questions for many years, often from the same people; generally the question is not necessarily a question but more a statement of disbelief, therefore I try to answer courteously but also move on (it is therefore important for you to sense what the questioner is really asking). In addition, there is a precedent for fasting in nearly every world religion and it may be helpful to read up on this for your own reference if you want to make real inter-faith bridges. For some comic relief on the subject, I suggest Baba Ali’s Ramadan’s Reruns (initial segment), available via Youtube.
3) How do we manage the long days in Ramadan with our children, and without TV?
Although I am not a fan, TV is not inherently evil. If your children have a very strong desire to watch TV, and they are not listening to you (in terms of limiting the TV time), try having a dialogue with them about what they think would be an appropriate amount during Ramadan, considering the many additional Ramadan activities/goals you may have outlined (provided you have their buy-in for those goals). Try to reach a compromise that works for all of you, but have them have a sense of ownership in the process. Then, I strongly recommend pre-selecting programs, especially a range of (informative, potentially calm) nature programs. In the activity list below, I have also included a reference to the Zaky series, as well as the PBS documentary ‘Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet’, which while geared toward adults, could be watched in shorter segments by/with younger children. I would keep a chart and make a record, but give this specific task to the children. You could also create a reward scheme. Muslimville offers a range of wonderful Ramadan resources (cited below), including ‘Smart Cool Week’ which is TV-free but full of alternative activities. Chapter 5 ‘TV’ in ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey’ also deals explicitly with this issue.
Sometimes the placement of the TV is also a major challenge. If you really want to excise TV from your home during Ramadan then you may need to reconsider its placement in the home (most living rooms are organized around TV sets). And if you do remove it then you need to make sure you have alternatives (books, puzzles, drawing, legos, clay, outdoor activities), and you also need to realize that in any transition away from TV you may need to be forefront in interacting with your children. Two parents also contributed the following, during the Q&A: maintain a loose schedule and have the children know what is coming in the day. Also, to the extent possible, have the children participate in food preparation, especially iftar, and be open to accepting the chaos (and clean-up) that often accompanies children in the kitchen.
4) What should I do, during Ramadan, since I’m fasting? (this question was asked by a young male teenager, who attended the talk, all previous questions had been asked by adults)?
‘There are endless possibilities, but the important part is to stay active. Ramadan is not a long siesta, even in Houston-summer-break-heat. Do you like basketball?’
‘ Ok, do you have a basketball hoop (or access to one)?’
‘Ok, well, you may not have the energy to do 100 shots, but I would still try for 5-10 shots, when the sun is not at its peak. Stay active. Keep moving…. Do you have a favorite author? Have you read all the books by your favorite author?’
‘Ok, well, how about finding a second favorite author. The public libraries are open and want to see you….Have you started to make any Eid gifts?’
‘Well, quite apart from any Qur’aanic goals you may have for this month, why don’t you consider (now, don’t share this with your parents), copying out your favorite ayaat from the Qur’aan and laminating them and/or framing them to give them as gifts. Remember, stay active. Don’t lose or waste a minute. Ramadan is only once a year and we don’t want to be caught ‘sleeping on the job.’ Let’s talk more one-on-one after, ok?’
In addition, the principal of ILM Academy recommended that we consider incorporating more community service and charity projects during the course of Ramadan, which could have major appeal for our youth. Habitat for Humanity may be too ambitious but maybe not. Ask the youth what they think they could do and then plot a strategy with them. Also try making the mesgid a real destination for activities so a positive relationship is cultivated with this sacred space.
Following is a short list of Ramadan materials of possible interest. In this era of information overload, I deliberately selected only a few of the materials I have come across (and actively tested/implemented and enjoyed with children). These are all free downloads with the exception to the Ramadan Memory Book (available for a nominal fee) and the full length versions of two videos (although clips may be viewed freely). I welcome feedback.
1. Ramadan Memory Book by Umm Ibrahim (Talibidden Jr), this is a wonderful resource that we have used (and re-used) for 4 years, alhumdulilah! Geared toward children 5-8. Available via:
(also recommend TJ http://tjramadan.blogspot.com/ by same author)
2. Muslimville Ramadan competitions, ages JK to 8. We have participated for 3 years and always experience new learning, alhumdulilah. Available via: http://ramadancompetition.com/
3. Mini Muslim Ramadan resources, including e-book, Fatimah’s First Fasting Day Storybook. Available via: http://www.mini-mumin.com/RK2.html
4. Resources available via Productive Muslim (www.productivemuslim.com), including 30 Tips for a guilt-free Ramadan (free e-book). These are not specifically geared toward children, however, may be useful to adults and tailored by parents to children.
1. Zaky series, via One4Kids, especially, Let’s Learn Qur’an with Zaky & Friends, geared for younger children. Ramadan Song with Zaky, featured on this video, is also available via Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3jQfIzgXsM
2. Muhammad: Legacy of Prophet (PBS): although now a decade old (and not explicitly ‘Ramadan-focused’), is still stirring and we have found that it may we watched with young and old alike, with parental guidance: http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/film2.shtml
Each person has his/her own personal preferences, but we have found that digital Qur’aans (including the iQuran application) go a long way in helping to engage our youth (including getting them to identify favorite qaris, identify selections to memorize, serve as a reward for a major Qur’aanic accomplishments etc). We, however, only use such devices as a supplement (to our actual mushafs) and try to observe the same etiquette in handling etc that we would with a real mushaf. In addition, a favorite Qur’anic search engine is available via: http://www.islamicity.com/QuranSearch/