It has never ceased to amaze me how each of my children has started to fast Ramadan, on their own initiative, around the age of 7. Of course when they say they want to fast I have always encouraged them to do so, but before the age of 7 it usually consists of fasting between meals! But then around the age of 7 something happens and they want to try it for real, and I leave it entirely up to them – if they get cramps and find it too much I tell them how happy Allah will be with their efforts and that they will be rewarded for their intention as if they actually did fast a day, and I remind them that their bodies are still growing so need nutrients more than us grown-ups – after all Allah has not made it compulsory for them to fast until they have reached the age of puberty, and, in many respects it’s harder for them to fast than us, and Allah is Just so then we should also be with those in our care. I will encourage them to eat or drink something if they so wish but more often than not they decide to ride it out. I remember my eldest son, in England, acting very strangely and I finally dragged it out of him that he was suffering from cramps but that he didn’t want to tell me in case I made him eat! In fact, when my children were younger, I have often found myself saying to them when they were misbehaving during Ramadan ‘if you don’t stop arguing/fighting/shouting I’m going to make you eat!’ And then I think……what on earth would the neighbours think if they heard me?????
It also amazes me how Algerians (I can’t speak for other nationalities as I don’t know as many of them to judge) abroad, who may never pray, who may smoke and who are far away from a Muslim community and family will fast the whole month of Ramadan without question – there may be so many things they don’t do in their religion but Ramadan is a must, and they will obey the rules of fasting completely no matter what kind of work they do or hours they keep.
Time during Ramadan has a completely different rhythm – there is no rush to prepare a meal for lunch time, or a snack to go with afternoon coffee/tea so the day is a lot more leisurely, and apart from the mad rush to put hot food on the table all at the same time, there isn’t much pressure. In Algeria during the summer it becomes inevitable that you sleep more during the day and stay up during the 7 hours of night, if you are able, as by the time you’ve eaten, cleared away the food, prayed the extra Taraweeh prayers, read some Qur’an, snacked again, there’s only a little time left before getting up for the pre-dawn meal.
What makes Ramadan a truly special month is not what we eat or when we eat, but rather it is the idea of making time to turn away from worldly concerns, while still living in the world and getting on with our daily duties, and turning to Allah and His Book in order to retreat a while and put life into its right perspective. As a child brought up in the Catholic church I knew all about retreats – they were often organised by the church for a week or two and also by the schools, where you were encouraged to put down your daily toil for a while and think of more ethereal matters, and in many ways Ramadan reminds me of these times. We are encouraged to take stock of our spiritual lives, to develop new devotional habits and to exit Ramadan a better person with new ingrained spiritual habits, so that with each Ramadan we become a better person inshallah. That’s the principle – the reality is another matter. It often starts out like a New Year’s list of things you want to do and improve in your life and ends up feeling as if you’ve failed in some way. This is because we so often set such high standards for ourselves and life and family get in the way of our objectives, and then we have to try and maintain calm and peace and not get angry because keeping our temper in check is one of the big requisites of performing Ramadan correctly. But Allah only asks of us what we can achieve, nothing more or nothing less, and there is a hadith that says something on the lines of small deeds done continuously are more beloved to Allah than bigger ones done now and again. So, if there is just one good deed, whether it be a new dua (supplication) we’ve learnt, or one extra prayer we make, and we incorporate it in our life after the month of Ramadan is over, then it is an improvement on our older self and we, inshallah, will become better people because of it. Roll on next Ramadan!