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Advice to parents with children who are fasting this Ramadān
Allāh taught parents in the Qur’ān to make a remarkable invocation for their children:
And those who say: “Our Lord! Bestow on us from our wives and our offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us leaders for the Muttaqūn.”
Ibn ʿAbbās explained that the meaning of ‘comfort of our eyes’ is “(offspring) who will strive to obey Allāh and bring them joy in this world and the Hereafter.’ One of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences for a parent is to see their child mature and assume the responsibility of obeying Allāh and following His Religion. When a child begins to uphold the Religion of Allāh in their lives, the parent knows that their legacy will continue beyond their death as the righteous child continues good deeds and becomes a source of sadaqah jāriya (ongoing charity). Note how Allāh did not teach parents to invoke for their children to become pious, but become leaders for the pious. Allāh always exhorts parents to have the highest aspirations for their children and to set them lofty goals. Ibn Kathīr said, ‘They (parents) wanted their worship to be connected to the worship of their children and offspring, and their guidance to go beyond themselves and benefit others’.
The main concern of the Prophets in the Qur’ān when death approached them was to ensure that their children stayed true to the worship and obedience of Allāh:
Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, when he said to his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac – one God. And we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.”
This year as Ramaḍān coincides with the longest days of the year, many parents are facing the prospect of their children fasting for the first time, or being mandated to fast for the first time. When a child reaches the age of puberty the Islamic injunctions become obligatory on them which include fasting in Ramaḍān. This often creates conflict within a society which still treats young people as little more than mini-consumers, incapable of making informed decisions, let alone assuming positions of leadership and responsibility.
Islām has a very different perspective on young people and their potential. The lives of the Companions are rich with examples of young people assuming great positions of leadership and achieving remarkable feats. The first male to accept Islām was a child: ʿAlī accepted Islām at the tender age of 10 years old and would accompany the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to pray in secret. He hosted Abū Dhar al-Ghifari when he came to Makkah for 3 days to investigate the Prophethood of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and secretly led him to Dār ul Arqam where he accepted Islām. His bravest act was when he took the place of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in his bed during the night of the Hijrah knowing full well that a group of assassins were camped outside with their swords waiting to attack.
In the aftermath of the trauma of the death of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), when the hypocrites were plotting in Madīna, and the Bedouins were apostacising in the peninsula, Usāma bin Zayd, led an army of the senior Companions to fight the Romans at 17. He not only led the expedition but was victorious, becoming the first Muslim general to defeat the Romans and pave the way for the conquest of Syria and Egypt.
Every week we recount the story of the companions of the cave who escaped persecution seeking to preserve their religion. Allāh described them as having Īmān in Allāh, and Allāh increasing them in guidance, but their very first quality is that they were ‘youths’:
It is We who relate to you, [O Muḥammad], their story in truth. Indeed, they were youthswho believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.
The stage of youth can be the most critical stage in a person’s life where habits and mind-sets are formed which endure for the rest of the person’s life. It is also the stage where temptation and desires are at their strongest with raging hormones and a diminished sense of risk. However, youth can also be a stage of great potential. A stage where people are more idealistic, and have not yet been tarnished by the cynicism that comes with experience and vested interests. It is a stage of unlimited energy and ambition. It is the duty of Muslim parents to cultivate this potential and encourage it to grow and flourish.
There is no better place to start the journey to adulthood than Ramaḍān and ensuring young people who have reached the age of puberty fulfil the commandment to fast every day without fail, and internalise the advice of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to ʿAbdullāh Ibn ʿAbbās:
“O young man, I shall teach you some words: Be mindful of Allāh and Allāh will protect you. Be mindful of Allāh and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allāh (alone); and if you seek help, then seek help from Allāh (alone)…”
Ibn al-Jawzi said, ‘All acts of worship are noticeable (by others) when performed and it is rare for it to be free of some tarnishing, except fasting’. Fasting trains the young person to be cognisant of Allāh and not to feel the need to display deeds in front of people. This is a particular poignant lesson for young people who are often obsessed with their self-image and how they are perceived by others.
But what can we do as parents to ensure that our children are supported in fasting for more than 21 hours a day throughout Ramaḍān?
Firstly, along with having high aspirations for our children, parents need to pepper this with a healthy dose of realism. Many relationships between Muslim parents and their children are strained to breaking point by the unrealistically high expectations of their parents. Often their children become a vehicle for the lost ambitions of the parent who demands the child memorise the Qur’ān, excel in their academic studies, be a budding athlete and develop a refined character with little or no input from parents. Children need unconditional love and they need to hear meaningful praise and encouragement from their parents. Without this the child senses the parents’ perpetual disappointment and can develop feelings of insecurity and attention-seeking. Also, many parents often see their own youth through rose-tinted glasses, forgetting their own mistakes and shortcomings and recounting how respectful they were when they were young. Even if this were true, and often it isn’t, parents and their children belong to different eras and comparisons are unfair. Your children cannot see the world through your eyes and from the culture which you were brought up in. They can only see the world through their eyes and the culture you have brought them up in.
The order to fast in the Qur’ān already has sufficient concessions to take account of the inherent difficulties in fasting for young people. The call by some modernists to shorten the fasting day is yet another attempt in a long catalogue of attempts to demolish the symbols of Islām. It deserves no response, no attention and no consideration. It contradicts the aspects of Islām which are known by necessity, and in which ignorance is no excuse. Allāh said in the Qur’ān:
The month of Ramaḍān [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’ān, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allāh intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allāh for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
The concession for the ill not to fast and make up the days after Ramaḍān covers the spectrum of situations where a child may not be able to fast through ill health or dehydration. Fasting more than 21 hours in a hot summer’s day may in individual cases exceed the physical ability of a person – young or old. Where there is a prospect of genuine harm to health on a particular day, the fast could be broken and made up later. That is why it is important that Muslim parents talk through this concession with their children, and children know their own limits. A tummy ache brought about by the pangs of hunger are expected, but a young person who is genuinely feeling ill to the extent of feeling faint or physically unwell needs to break their fast. Parents should send their children to school with a bottle of water and some fruit as a precaution. And children should not feel guilty or anxious if they have to legitimately use the concession.
Of course the preparation for fasting Ramaḍān should begin months before its arrival. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would fast Mondays and Thursdays and the three middle days of the month known as the ‘white days’. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would also fast consistently in Sha’bān, giving the ideal physical and spiritual conditioning needed for Ramaḍān. It can be too much of a shock to the system for a young person not to have fasted the entire year then dive into fasting thirty consecutive long hot summer days.
The suhūr (pre-dawn meal) is an essential aspect of fasting. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Eat suhūr for in suhūr there is blessing.”
Suhūr gives vital nutrition to the fasting person and is the distinguishing feature of fasting in Islām compared to other religions. The priority for suhūr should be to remain hydrated, drink plenty of water and eat fresh fruit and vegetables, avoiding salty and fried foods. Slow release energy foods such as whole-wheat pasta and porridge can be a useful source of energy for the day, and dates are the tried and tested food from the sunnah to ward off hunger. Small and regular meals are always better then one-off binges. From the time of iftār (opening the fast), the meals should be staggered. After initially breaking the fast with dates, water and fruit along with the favourite starters, the person should take a break for the Maghrib prayer. After completing the prayer and athkār (remembrance) the person might eat their main protein based meal then again take a break for ʿIshā’ and tarawīh prayer. After completing the tarawīh prayer, the closing minutes should be dedicated to suhūr.
For a young person to cope with fasting and the feelings of hunger and thirst and the sense of isolation of not being able to sit with friends for lunch or breaks, the iftār (breaking the fast) and suhūr time should be an enjoyable family experience. The whole family should participate in preparing food and laying the table so the child associates fasting with fond memories of quality time for the whole family spent together. An effort should be made for home-cooked food with fresh ingredients and take-aways or eating out should be a treat not the norm. Parents should visit the mosque regularly in Ramaḍān with their children so they feel the enthusiasm and high spirits in the Muslim community which rejuvenates their own intention. The golden moments just before the breaking of the fast should be a time for devotion and duʿā’.
The day time of fasting after school or college should be punctuated with short naps not several hours of sleep which overturns the bodies biological clock and defeat the purpose of fasting in gaining Taqwa. Have short daily reminders between the family, particularly after Asr where different family members take turns to prepare points of benefit. The lives of the Prophets, the lives of the Companions and descriptions of the Hereafter are all subjects which boost the Īmān and increase the motivation for fasting. Every child and adult should have a target for recitation of the Qur’ān which as an aspiration should be to complete at least one recitation of the entire Qur’ān. Ramaḍān is the month of the Qur’ān and the ideal opportunity to mend our relationship with the Qur’ān.
The school of the young person has now become an increasingly important stakeholder who the parent will have to liaise with when their child is fasting. The increasing encroachment of schools into the lives and cultures of good families, along with a neocon-led agenda to make orthodox Islamic practises a safeguarding issue in schools has led some schools to take the outrageous step of insisting young people do not fast in Ramaḍān without consulting the school first. There are still many schools that celebrate and recognise the place of Ramaḍān in our society and the universal lessons it brings for all people, but the relentless attempts by ignorant opportunists to insert themselves into educational institutions and advise them on policy has led some schools to step far beyond the bounds of their authority. Fasting is a completely personal act of worship and providing the parent takes the necessary precautions such as discussing the concessions available to a young person if they feel faint or unwell, and providing water, fruit or cereal bars in case the young person needs to break their fast, the school should have no business interfering.
However, in the current climate where schools are hyper sensitive to any accusation of ignoring safeguarding issues, it is advisable that all Muslim parents build positive relationships with their schools. Try and make sure that you quickly establish yourself as a good supportive parent; attend all parents’ evenings and school functions. Go out of your way to recognise the hard work your child’s school does. By ensuring your first communication with the school is not negative, you are establishing positive relationships and opening lines of communication that will be needed later. When your child starts fasting, inform the school in writing and ensure your child has a signed note in their planner which can be shown to anybody in the school who challenges them regarding why they are not eating lunch. Always speak to the school in terms of the decision to fast for your child being a joint decision – in the current climate a parent making demands that their child must fast can be easily misinterpreted as forcing your child to fast.
If the school takes the audacious step of declaring children will not be allowed to fast, immediately request a meeting with the Headteacher or a member of the Leadership team to explain the reasons why your child must fast and the precautions you will be taking. Ensure your views are always stated in writing and that any meetings are followed up with a letter from you confirming what was agreed. A justified parental complaint can trigger an Ofsted inspection and schools should be cautious of trampling over the rights of parents.
The role of a parent is a thankless task. The Qur’ān has powerful verses exhorting children to be dutiful to their parents with rudeness to parents classified as a major sin, but there are relatively few verses exhorting parents to be dutiful to their children. One of the reasons for this may be that a parent needs no encouragement to be dutiful to their child – it is instinctive. The child however takes for granted the immense blessing of the parent and needs to be constantly reminded. Parents should compete with each other to encourage their children to recite the Qur’ān, pray, fast and give charity. Consider the reward of a parent who teaches al-Fātihah to their child who continues to pray for 60 years. The child would have recited this great sūrah close to half a million times without even considering the reward for optional prayers. Consider the reward of a parent who encourages their child to fast who continues to fast for 60 years. The child would have accumulated the reward of almost 2000 obligatory fasts without even considering the optional fasts. Death might terminate our ability to do good deeds, but our ability to accumulate rewards spans well past the grave through our righteous children. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
‘When a son of Ādam dies, his deeds cease apart from three: a righteous child who will pray for him, knowledge from which others may benefit after him, or on-going charity.’
 Surah Furqan, 74
 Tafsir Ibn kathir
 Surah al-Baqarh, 133
 Surah al-kahaf, 13
 Surah Yunus, 83
 Sahih Bukhari 629, Sahih Muslim 1031
 Surah al-Baqarah, 185
 Bukhari and Muslim
 Sahih Muslim