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The Unwelcome Guest in Ramadan

Prevent, Ramadan and the Family

Ramaḍān is a blessed month that holds so much significance for Muslims around the world in similar and yet also different ways. That special feeling of Ramaḍān is made that much more special when we have our families around us.

In a narration found in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) recalls how the children would be engaged during the fasting days:

“We used to make toys out of wool and took (them to the mosque) along with us. When they (the children) asked us for food, we gave them these toys to play with, and these made them forgetful till they completed their fast.”[1]

Fasting was an integral factor shaping the very practices of the family, much to the delight of the children. And this continues to be the case today.

When I was younger my parents, like many others, encouraged me first to do “half-day fasts.” Even though it only really meant skipping breakfast, I still woke up with eagerness to have suhūr (the pre-dawn meal) with my family. And despite eating while my older siblings were fasting, I was always careful not to overeat so I could enjoy breaking fast with everyone around the table.

Be it family togetherness or family traditions, most of us have stories that highlight the importance of family during this time.

For some, however, this tranquility is shattered by the coercive arm of the increasingly notorious Prevent strategy. This year marks my second Ramaḍān at Prevent Watch (PW), an NGO that supports individuals impacted by Prevent.

My first Ramaḍān at PW coincided with the lockdown, which meant that most people were already isolated from their families—with many also experiencing the loss of relatives whom they were unable to meet or see.

The situation worsened for those mothers who called the PW helpline because they were worried that their children had been referred to Prevent. When I spoke to these mothers, there was anxiety in their voices as they feared the bludgeoning implications of the blunt Prevent processes.

This is all compounded by the fact that the journey to any closure for families—and any redress—is often a long one. Indeed, there are many existing clients I have continued to speak with since last Ramaḍān who are still navigating the obstacles placed in their paths by a Prevent referral.  Be it with social services, their child’s school or with the police themselves—the battle is, quite often, a long one.

As I reflected on my second year at PW, I wondered what difficulties would manifest in a case that would inaugurate this blessed month. And true to form, on the first day of Ramaḍān, before ẓuhr (midday prayer) had set in, I found myself speaking to a client who was telling me about how a Prevent referral had detrimentally impacted her son.

At the time of writing, I cannot share the case details, partly because I am yet to recover from processing the information myself, and partly because it is the client’s story to share one day when she gains closure and redress. What I can say is that the anxiety and distress in her voice was all too familiar, and lingers with me as I write.

Of course, the occurrence of such difficulties during the month of Ramaḍān should be seen as sign of closeness to Allah. At a time when the gaining of rewards and the removal of our sins are augmented, such difficulties can only increase our status before the Almighty. As the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

“The servant will continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin.”[2]

However, the elevated spiritual status is not only there for the one who is oppressed, but also for the one who removes the pain of those who are having trouble:

“Whoever relieves the hardship of a believer in this world, Allah will relieve his hardship on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever helps ease one in difficulty, Allah will make it easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter.”[3]

And so we should, as fellow Muslims, firstly remember these distressed families in our supplications: families who are putting on a brave face for their children, and seeking strength through their sleeplessness, hunger and prostration during Ramaḍān.

Secondly, I hope we can band together as believers to support these families by aiding those who are dealing with these cases directly.

The effect of Prevent is a heavy burden to bear, and one we cannot fully appreciate no matter how much we academically digest Prevent. It can be, and often is, a traumatic experience that hits home literally and figuratively, in a month that creates our most precious familial memories.

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[1] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1136b

[2] Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 2398

[3] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2699

About Dr Layla Aitlhadj

Dr Layla is Director at Prevent Watch. Prevent Watch offers free support and information for individuals impacted by Prevent.

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