Sense of achievement
Until last year, Taizeen Kassim was sure something was amiss during Ramadan as he observed the rest of his family abandoning food during the day, while he would have lunch regularly. But this year when the seven year old demanded that he too would fast, his mother Rasna Thahir was quick to oblige. “I felt he was strong enough to take on the challenge. My plan was to let him fast for as much time as he could but allowing him to break it if he felt tired. But Alhamdulillah, he is continuing to fast till now,” says Dubai expat Rasna who is a home maker.
The third grader from Buds Public School was very enthusiastic the first two days when Ramadan began on a weekend, but admits to feeling a bit tired when online classes started and he had to wake up early. The family decided to ease his woes by pitching in to entertain him during the day. His elder sisters Tabassum, 17, and Tanya, 15, take turns to pamper him by telling him stories, motivating him and ensuring he is not bored.
Rasna has removed the time limit from his favourite games but she also ensures that he performs his prayers and listens to stories from Islamic history.
Since its lockdown and kids are not exposed to the heat of the summer, Rasna believes it has been easier to train him to fast. “Also, if it were a normal Ramadan, he would have gone out to play and seen other kids having their break time snacks, which could have broken his resolve,” she says.
Sometimes, Taizeen feels lazy to wake up for suhour (early morning meal) during which Rasna resorts to reverse psychology. “If I feel he is sleepy I just pass a casual comment that he doesn’t have to fast which makes him jump out of the bed in a jiffy,” she says.
For suhour he takes a sandwich with coffee and Rasna ensures he drinks plenty of water.
Rasna hails from Kannur in Kerala, a city famous for its delectable cuisine, especially evening snacks. But Taizeen is a choosy eater and has only chicken strips and bread box (stuffed fried bread). “Since he eats nothing else, I have to make them daily. He also likes to drink juice,” says Rasna.
At the end of every fast, Taizeen says he feels a sense of achievement and at the table, he reiterates to the rest of his family that he will fast through the whole month.
Due to the current situation, the family will be celebrating Eid indoors this year, but they will ensure that Taizeen is made happy. “As it is his first Eid after fasting a whole month, we will get him his favourite toy car as a gift. Both his grandmothers (back in India) have already got him gifts and are waiting for the chance to send them over,” says Rasna.
As a kindergarten teacher, Pakistani expat Saima Shoaib has a great deal of experience dealing with the whims and fancies of young children. But this year she is on an arduous mission – to make both her kids, Eshaal, 8, and Abdul Rahman, 7, attempt their first fast.
Eshaal, who has been attempting to observe the fast since the age of six, was gradually initiated into the process by her family. “For the last couple of years, she has been doing half fasts, where she would fast half a day,” says Saima.
This year they are going one step further by letting her do intermittent complete fasting during the whole month, according to her own pace.
On the first day of her fast, unable to contain her excitement, Eshaal woke up at 3:45am for suhour and awakened the rest of the family. Saima spread the table with Eshaal’s favourite food items like paratha with chicken and lassi (sweet laban).
“After her online classes, she read the Quran and played with her toys. But during the last hour she felt a bit tired,” says Saima.
For iftar there were family favourites like chicken tikka, fruit chaat, rooh afza (a popular drink) and pakoras.
Seeing his elder sister stoically going forward, Abdul Rahman has also been trying to fast. The siblings keep each other entertained and occupied during the day. Eshaal, who has been catching up on her Quran and watching Islamic shows, imparts the attained knowledge with due diligence to her brother.
“It is nice to see them motivating each other and bonding through Ramadan, especially since they cannot go out and play with other friends,” says Saima.
Whether she is fasting or not, Eshaal still wakes up earlier than others for suhour. “She is very caught up in the Ramadan spirit but I don’t want to push her too much. If she completes at least six fasts this year, it is a good achievement,” says Saima.
Imbibing the spirit
Nine-year-old Livia Kaati is feeling all grown up now that she has successfully completed her first fast.
Her mother, Canadian expat Lana Kaati, has tried to inculcate in her children that Ramadan is not just about forsaking food but rather being on your best behaviour, treating others well, helping others and curbing vices like anger.
This has helped Livia go through Ramadan with renewed vigour. “By around 3pm, she gets tired and starts checking the clock for the countdown. Sometimes when she gets really frustrated she keeps asking when Ramadan will end, but a little pep talk puts her back in spirit,” says Lana.
Due to being indoors, Lana says that it is definitely easier for children to fast as they can sleep a bit later into the day and are not exposed to the heat and humidity outside.
One of Livia’s favourite pastimes is to do the activities in a Ramadan calendar, which has one activity set for each day. But the main attraction is the four course meals her mom prepares every day, which include her favourites like lentil soup, kibbeh and pasta. “Sometimes she helps me out in the kitchen and helps set the table. Every day she looks forward to the dessert, which has to be special,” says Lana.
Livia missed completing the fast a couple of days. Her brother, Liam, 7, is still in trial phase. Lana says Livia experiences a sense of pride after every fast. “We have explained to her it is a learning curve, which becomes easier with more practice. It is important for kids to know that God is merciful and will not hold them accountable for not being able to complete it,” says Lana.
She plans to make this stay-at-home Eid special by decorating their home with balloons, buying gifts and organising Zoom meetings with family. “I have already bought their clothes online. On Eid day, I will make their favourite breakfast of pancakes, eggs and Manakeesh. Later we will make Maamoul (date cookies) at home.”
Following a routine
Moosa Dara has a very systematic approach to his fasting routine. Checking the suhour timing every day, the 10 year old from Pakistan goes to bed early and ensures he has ample rest. After his school hours, he ensures that he spends time reciting the Quran. Then he plays with his toy cars with his younger brother Mohammed to while away the time till iftar.
Only hitch in the perfectly planned routine is that Moosa is a big foodie and sometimes hunger gets the better of him. “He suggests a lot of food to be made for iftar and we try to comply because we know he is giving fasting his best shot. On the first day of his fast, we gave him Dh50 to keep him motivated. His patience and resilience have been amazing,” says his mother.
His favourite iftar dishes are chicken biryani, samosa and rice pudding. Sometimes, to keep him distracted from hunger pangs, his mother encourages him to help out in the kitchen. So far the young chef has whipped up different varieties of ice cream with mango being his favourite.
Sometimes Moosa tries to use fasting as an excuse to avoid school work, but a quick reminder that Ramadan is not an excuse to be lazy, puts him back on track. Another factor that keeps his resolve high is that he is setting a good example for his younger brother Muhammed, 7. He hopes to complete the whole month of fasting but if things get too tough he will switch to alternate days.
“For Eid day we have ordered new clothes for them and new toys. He loves roses, so we will get him potted rose plants and make his favourite homemade cheesecake with him,” says his mom.
A Ramadan of determination
Eleven-year-old Kareem Zayed was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age and was homeschooled till grade five. Last November his parents decided to put him into a mainstream school called Next Generation School. But he struggled to socialise with his peers and on the request of the Inclusion Department, Kareem did a full assessment and was diagnosed with autism.
Since the age of five, Kareem often tried to fast for a few hours at a time, but this year he was determined to observe the fast for the entire day. “Kareem loves routine and my first task was to explain how the routine would change during Ramadan so that he could mentally prepare himself, explains his mother Gina Broodryk.
Although he had been homeschooled before, it was still a challenge to get Kareem into the rhythm of distance learning. The schedule of lessons had to be adapted to balance home life and emotional well-being while being stuck at home.
But according to Gina, Kareem is adapting extremely well. “Since Ramadan started Kareem is doing as much work as he can, but still making time for Ramadan activities. We are so fortunate to have this time as a family and we are making the most out of being stuck at home, not having to rush anywhere. Honestly, I think the kids would like Ramadan to be year round! They now get to stay up later (9:30pm) and wake up in the night for suhour, and sleep late! An added bonus is that the workload for the kids reduced during Ramadan, especially since Islam forms the basis of education at NGS,” says Gina, who is a graphic designer.
The first day of fasting was hard for Kareem and he couldn’t make it through the day. A few days into the month and he experienced a whole day of fasting. “His reaction of satisfaction after taking that first sip of water, breaking his fast, it was priceless and I will cherish it forever,” says Gina.
On Fridays, he follows Juma prayers together with the family and listens to the English khutbah. Before iftar everyone works together to set the table, prepare the drinks tray and bring the food to the table.
His kid sister Noor, 6, is also trying her hand at fasting.
Now that it is stay at home, is it difficult to make kids observe the fast? Gina asserts it is definitely easier. “With Ramadan being in summer, it would be harder going out and experiencing fasting in the heat. We are blessed to sit in a cool house, can rest when we feel tired and spend time in prayer,” she says.
Kareem is a fussy eater. He loves Egyptian toasted bread sandwich with mince and pesto, homemade chicken nuggets and pasta with parmesan and mince, burger patties or kofta. “This Ramadan was a breakthrough because he is trying new stuff like yoghurt. It is very difficult to get him to try new food,” she says.
Gina realises that Kareem has been struggling to observe full-day fasts, but he has skipped only three days so far. She has created a ‘Better Self Ramadan Journey’ chart for the kids where they do small tasks to strengthen their relationship with Allah. Noor is gifting her most-loved dresses to other girls in Jebel Ali Village and has made a care package for another girl.
Kareem is pushing himself outside of his own comfort zone and trying new things like gardening and preparing food. “He mopped the floors yesterday to help me. He is also spending extra time in prayers and practicing his Quran recitation,” says Gina
Kareem is not very vocal with his feelings, but Gina knows that he feels extremely blessed for having food and water, a roof over his head and a bed to sleep in, under these circumstances. “Every iftar, taking that first sip of water actually makes him emotional, remembering those who are less fortunate without food or water. It’s an enriching experience and he plans to fast as many days as he can during this month,” she says.
The family is planning to make cookies and distribute it to neighbours during Eid. “Contactless delivery, of course,” asserts Gina. “Although my husband’s family is nearby in Dubai, we won’t be able to see them as some are immunity compromised. So maybe the rest of the day will be spent on a movie with the kids in our living room, with closed curtains, popcorn and Eid cookies!”