We speak to Debbie Jaunich, of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, about the Holy Month.
Why is the Holy Month such an important time for families? Families tend to spend more time together during Ramadan, in part because of the nature of the fast, where we gather together at the end of the day to share a meal. We all can get busy with our lives and Ramadan is a time to reconnect with family, friends and neighbours. It’s also an opportunity to get to know new neighbours, inviting them for a meal, and in general a time for the community to bond together for a common spiritual cause.
Are there any particular customs observed by Dubai’s families during this time? Every family tends to have their own traditions when it comes to Ramadan. Most of the customs within families, especially ones with small children, centre around food. Special dishes are made, including lots of sweets, and homes are usually abuzz with neighbours, friends and extended family gathering for meals.
Muslims usually start the day with Suhour, a traditional meal before dawn. All family members usually partake in this meal, and for young children it can be exciting and different, eating breakfast in the wee hours of the morning. There are sometimes special foods that can differ from family to family, which usually include dates and plenty of water.
Of course there are also the preparations for Eid, the buying of new clothes, which is recommended if you have the means, and the giving of gifts during the Eid festivities. Homes can be decorated to mark the end of Ramadan, and children enjoy preparing small gifts to exchange with their friends and family.
How can non-Muslim children living in Dubai find out more about Ramadan? The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) has evening Iftar dinners at their centre in Bastakiya that are a favourite for families. It is a way to get to know the customs and traditions of Ramadan through a meal, where Emirati hosts share their thoughts on what happens in the Holy Month and why. Families also have the opportunity to visit the Diwan Masjid during the event and learn about its role and the worship activities during the month.
Of course, if your family is invited to an Iftar dinner by a neighbour, friend or co-worker, accept the invitation – this is the best way to experience how the fast is traditionally broken.
And if your family wants to be involved with charity, an important part of Ramadan, the place to start is right next door. What are the rules of the fast for kids and teens? Children are required to start fasting from puberty, but generally start practicing around the age of seven. They may fast for part of the day or give up their favourite sugary cereal, for example, according to their ability and their age. Most children try to fast because they want to be a part of what their siblings or parents are doing, well before they are required to, according to Islam.
But, there is more to fasting than just not eating and drinking, and these are the things that are emphasized with children. So, the emphasis is on doing extra good deeds, or being extra careful to obey their parents, not arguing and fighting with siblings, or avoiding hurting someone’s feelings.
Are there any other customs that kids should know about, too? Muslim children should perform the obligatory prayers that are put into practice by the age of 10. They may join their family in extra prayers, called Tarawiyah (or ‘relief’) which are the night prayers performed in the masjids after the Isha, or late evening obligatory prayer. It is a prayer which helps relieve or remove the burdens of this life.
How else can we be culturally sensitive? By being courteous during the month to things such as loud music, and taking extra care choosing what to wear in public is always appreciated. Parents should simply inform their children that this is a month of worship, all day every day, and they should use common sense. Life does not stop, we all just become more spiritual and more conscience of the needs of those around us.
Any advice for parents of older children who are fasting? Have your children join in on the fasting at a young age, before it is required of them, this way, they can be ‘in shape’ for when it really counts. Children can start by fasting for part of the day, and practicing the extra good deeds early on. For those who have children who will be fasting for the first time as teens, get them involved in all aspects, this way they will stay busy during the day. Wake up and have a healthy suhoor before dawn.
Schedule time to read the Quran, or have them plan a lesson for the whole family about one of the prophets. Let the children get involved with the preparation of the evening meal,too. Every child is different and we should keep in mind their limitations, but as long as they are healthy they should be able to continue their normal activities (counting for the heat at this time of year). Friends can be silently supportive by choosing activities that don’t put any extra stress on the body, or activities that might be a distraction during the fast.