This is a guest post written by my friend and colleague Dr Nasima Hassan, from the University of East London. In this post, Nasima explores the experiences of a 10 year old girl in London during Ramadan/Ramdhaan. Thanks Nasima!
It’s Ramdhaan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims around the word fast from dawn until dusk. Here in London that means the fast starts around 2.45am and ends at 9.25pm. So that means that lots of Muslim children are fasting whilst attending school. This throws up many questions and concerns (and rightly so) from teachers who have to balance the demands of a full teaching day and everything we know about healthy living and drinking water with the spiritual and religious practices of their pupils. I am asked frequently what happens in Ramdhaan so this blog is a typical day in Ramdhaan through the experiences of Mariam. Mariam is 10 and lives in Shadwell with her parents, her grandmother and two older brothers. They also have rabbit called Junaid. It is important to understand how very different the 30 days of Ramdhaan are in terms of a child’s home life and how the established routines of time for homework and bed time are disrupted because of other (greater) priorities. It is also critical for teachers’ to gain an insight into the wraparound day of rituals and prayer that make up Ramdhaan and how time is spent as a family or supporting the community. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, for many Muslim children this the daily pattern for the entire month meaning that by day 2 or 3 of broken sleep children will appear tired in school, less energy and the cumulative effect of surviving on one meal a day also slows them down. I have not elaborated on the spiritual and religious dimensions of this month, RE Today can help with this and http://shop.retoday.org.uk/pdfs/9781905893348.pdf can help with some wider questions about British Muslims.
11pm – Taraweh, the night prayer beings. Mariam and her family travel to the masjid on weekends to take part in the hour long night prayer. They make arrangements to meet with extended family members at the masjid, there is an air of excitement. The masjid is packed, ice cold bottled water is provided for the gathering along with sweets and fruit. It is important to keep sipping water and eating very small amounts of fruit. The night prayer is all about following the Imam, so requires good concentration and energy. The Imaam speaks in English and talks about being a good, kind person and how fasting is a test. Mariam takes her own bag of goodies to share with her friends once the night prayer is over. Everyone is tired, but Mariam is excited to be up after midnight. The men and women chat outside the masjid. It’s an exciting part of the month.
1.30am – Mariam’s parents wake up the children and the family share ‘sahur’, the meal that marks the start of the fast. Today the suhur is porridge and a banana for Mariam and her mother and eggs, sausages and toast for everyone else. Everyone is sleepy and there is very little chatter. Mariam’s grandmother is too old to fast, too weak. However, she joins in with the early morning meal (she sips green tea) and the dawn prayer which the family pray together in the front room. Mariam’s mum sends her straight to bed at 3.15 am. Everyone is exhausted.
10.00am – Mariam attends Islamic school from 10.00 – 12.00 on a Saturday. She learns about important beliefs in Islam e.g how Muslims should care for orphans, the homeless and the ill. The children sing nasheeds (Islamic songs) and play outside after class in the sunshine. The teacher explains that there is a door in Heaven called Al Rayyaan and people who fast will enter Heaven through this door. That is why it is so important to fast during the 30 days of Ramdhaan, even though it is hard. The children discuss what they will eat when the fast ends and buy treats on the way home.
1.30pm – Mariam’s mum prays the second obligatory prayer of the day – Zuhur . Mariam is watching TV with Junaid as both her brothers are at work and she can choose what to watch. Later, Mariam and her mother go to the market for fruit and vegetables and then take a nap. It is a hot and tiring day and Mariam’s mum says that she must rest or she may feel dizzy later.
5pm – Mariam plays on her bike with her neighbours. Mariam’s mother and grandmother pray the third obligatory prayer of the day – Asr. When Mariam’s brothers return from work they go straight to bed. The kitchen is a busy place at this time, lots of food is being prepared. Mariam’s neighbours help out in the kitchen, then they all take a share of the food home. Tomorrow cooking will be at her uncle’s home in Stepney and Mariam can play in the adventure playground near to their flat.
6pm – Mariam delivers parcels of food to her neighbours prepared by her mother. Each plate contains dates, savouries and a sweet dish and is wrapped in foil. She also waits at the front door to receive plates of food from family and neighbours. This happens every night and is the most exciting time for Mariam as she opens the parcels and can see what the family will share at Iftar. Dates, fruit, savouries and biscuits are exchanged.
7pm -Mariam’s father listens to an Islamic talk online about the fast as a form of self discipline. Mariam is playing on the Wii with her brother, later she feeds Junaid.
8pm – The family prepare for the iftar meal. Mariam’s grandmother eats some food as she is too elderly to wait any longer. Mariam and her brothers choose their favourite food and drink to open the fast with. Today it will be mango juice and chicken nuggets. Mariam’s mother has also prepared soup, rice, vegetables and smoothies. The iftar feast is ready.
8.45pm – before the fast everyone in the family makes their own dua (personal prayer) as this is the best time in the day for the dua to be heard. Nasheeds and recitation of the Quran fill the house. There are some last minute visitors with food parcels. It’s almost time. Mariam’s father and brothers go to the masjid. They take a plate of food to share with others at the masjid.
9.25 – Mariam ends her fast with a short prayer followed by dates and water. Her mother and grandmother share a small snack and after that they all pray the fourth obligatory prayer – Magrib. Mariam has been warned about drinking fizzy drinks- it is not allowed in Ramdhaan. Mariam’s father and brothers return from the masjid and the family share a meal. Compared to the early morning meal the iftar is a busy, fun time. The fast is over. Mariam feels proud that she has managed to complete the 18 hour fast. After iftar Mariam and her brothers share some chocolates and ice cream. They are all full!
11.00 – Mariam and her mother tidy up after iftar. Her father and brothers attend the night prayer. Sometimes, Mariam’s aunt and her cousins visit and the whole family stay awake until suhur, chatting and eating tea and cake.