Ramadan began this week, and Muslims around the world are observing the month-long holiday by fasting during the daylight hours. According to tradition, young Muslims are not required to fast until they reach the age of puberty, but that doesn't stop many Muslim kids and tweens from wanting to join the fast with family and friends.
It's a family decision about when kids will start to fast. Here are some great tips for those who want to help young children ease into the tradition.
Lena Winfrey Seder, author of "The Metamorphosis of a Muslim" and a mother of four, recommends that parents encourage young children who want to participate in the fast to join for just an hour or two (followed, of course, by lots of praise!) This helps even the youngest kids understand the importance of the fast and feel as though they are joining the family in the observance.
Blogger Reem El Shafaki of DinarStandard.com is the mother of two children, ages 2 1/2 and 4 who are too young to fast. "It's important not to pressure kids to fast, and in my experience, it's usually the kids who express a desire to fast like the grown-ups. When they are young, it's best to encourage them to fast for half days, extending the period as [they] become successful, or having them fast some of the days rather than the whole month," says El Shafaki.
For older kids who are attempting to fast for a full day, it's important that they get plenty to eat and drink at the suhoor, the pre-fast meal, to sustain them throughout the day. Also, it's important to allow them to break their fast on their first few attempts if you notice that they seem dehydrated or weak. It may take a few tries before their young bodies can adjust to the idea of fasting all day long, and its makes a difference to support them during this adjustment rather than pressure them to continue to the point of depletion.
Ponn Sabra, the blogger behind AmericanMuslimMom.com, says "[M]y girls have been fasting full-time for the full month of Ramadan since they were 5 and 7 years old, respectfully. The physical act of fasting is secondary to the mental and spiritual strength involved. I just asked my 2 youngest girls, 'If a reporter asked you, Do you think fasting is hard?', in chorus they said in a matter-of-fact-kind-of-tone 'no.' " says Sabra.