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Starting young: UAE's first-time fasters (clockwise from left) Ayla Nassar, Layth Anabtawi, Leyth Sharaf, Omar Ali Al Blooshi and Jude Al Farhan. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Like their peers around the world, many children in the UAE - some as young as eight - are keeping their first fast this Ramadan.

Click here for Ramadan prayer timings in UAE & Gulf countries

The holy month sees families rise early to have suhoor, the pre-dawn meal ahead of the day’s fast. The fasting hours - over 13 hours these days in the UAE - are spent in worship and rest, besides regular errands and pursuits of interests until the time to end the fast at sunset.

Many children are also keen to fast as a voluntary act of worship.

Among the youth on their first Ramadan fast is Ayla Nassar, 8, who studies in Year 4. Her mother Duaa Khattab said: “As parents we approached the topic of fasting with utmost sensitivity and care to Ayla. We ensured that she is physically and mentally ready for it before her first Ramadan fast.”

Self-discipline and empathy

Duaa said the parents also spent time explaining to her about the significance of keeping a fast according to their family culture and tradition. “We touched upon aspects like self-discipline, empathy and spiritual growth.”

Duaa added that at first they encouraged Ayla to start with short fasts and gradually increase the duration as she becomes more comfortable with the practice. “But she has been successfully fasting all through the day and only [ends] her fast at Maghrib [sunset] now. She is fully ready,” said Ayla’s mother, adding that the young girl has been excited about the Ramadan experience.

“She is feeling a sense of pride in embarking on her spiritual journey.”

Blessed Ramadan

Another eight-year-old girl who has kept up with her Ramadan fast is Jude Al Farhan, a Year 3 pupil. Her mother, K.A, said the little girl is also praying more. “I encourage my kids to fast by reminding them how Ramadan is filled with blessings. Fasting helps reach [children’s] duaa [prayer] to Allah. My daughter was motivated to start her first Ramadan this year. Her friends are doing the same. It seems like a trend in their school. Together they are growing spiritually, which is truly amazing,” the mom added.

‘I felt happy’

Meanwhile Layth Anabtawi, 9, who studies in Year 5, is also on his first Ramadan fast is receiving support and encouragement from his parents as the young Jordanian boy embarks on his spiritual quest.

“I felt happy I was able to keep my fast till Maghrib. My experience was easy and fun as my friends in school are fasting as well. We felt proud doing what our parents do during the holy month,” Layth said.

“I started feeling hungry at 1pm and my tummy was rumbling. I was more hungry than thirsty but I managed to stay on my fast. My parents said they are very proud of me.”

His mother Noor said the parents were touched by Layth’s commitment to complete the fast. “He showed great maturity and understanding.”

Training ground

Another nine year-old boy, Omar Ali Al Blooshi, who is Emirati, is also keeping fast this year for the first time. “It is hard, I feel hungry and thirsty but I am trying. My parents and siblings support me. It makes it easier,” he said.

His mother Maryam said Ramadan is not just about fasting. “It is also about learning to set boundaries and tell your body what to do. It is about controlling the mind. Later as the children grow up, they will be exposed to things that can make them addictive to, including [some kinds of] food. So it is a great month to make your mind strong,” she added.

Staying strong

Jordanian-Canadian, Leyth Sharaf, 13, who is keeping his first fast, said: “My first day was successful. I woke up before Fajr and ate. In school, I was able to manage the fast well. I did feel thirsty and my throat went dry. But I kept reminding myself not to drink water.”

Leyth added that his first day of fasting proved to be a great experience. “It allowed me to calm my nerves and stay connected with my family roots. In school I was lucky to be surrounded by friends who were also fasting like me. So it was easy. The first two days of Ramadan I have not had physical education class so I have been fine. Am preparing for next week when I have PE classes. It is all about keeping the mind strong.”

His mother Suhair said Leyth woke up with his elder brother at 4am to eat before Fajr. “I had prepared grilled chicken and pasta, which is what he requested. He had a lot of water as well. For iftar, I am preparing his favourite food including homemade brownies to motivate him to be on the fast.”

She added: “As a family we are supportive of each other in this beautiful holy month.”