Every year, billions of Muslims around the world refrain from eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset for one month. This holy month is called Ramadan and is the holiest of months in Islamic tradition. Many people think that Ramadan is simply a time to avoid food and drink but it is much more than that. The spiritual aspect of this holy month can leave an after effect that carries on for years. It is a time to strengthen the soul and become closer to God.
Markham mother of two Aneesa Bozai looks forward to this time of bonding and strengthening of her spirit every year. To her, Ramadan signifies many things.
“It means an increase in ibadat (worship), growing closer to what my deen (way of life) is about, to Allah and just having a spiritual revival that carries me on to the following year,” said Bozai.
Ramadan has two aspects to it. There is the religious and spiritual facet in which abstention from food and drink occurs while working on purifying your soul, but there is also the festive spirit that many enjoy celebrating all month. Culturally, Aneesa is aware that her children are eager because Ramadan culminates with an exciting end.
“From a cultural perspective, it’s this month long hype leading up to Eid, which is great. I think we need to have more enthusiasm for all of the holidays that we do celebrate because here in the West the holidays are so commercialized. I feel that we need to keep up with it and compete with it for our own generation of children.”
As the mother of 11-year-old, Maryam and 12-year-old, Abd al-Wakil, Aneesa understands that in order to compete with holidays like Christmas; Ramadan and Eid need to get children excited. During the weeks leading up to Ramadan, Aneesa gets her kids in the spirit by showing them that Ramadan is a month to be cherished and respected.
“It’s sort of like Ramadan is a guest in our home,” explains Bozai. “So when guests come, we put out our best dishes, etc. So for the month of Ramadan, let’s decorate the whole house.”
“We have lights going on outside of the house, inside of the house. They make decorations a couple of weeks before, whether it’s lanterns, stars and crescents, whatever they want to make,” said Bozai. “They hang them up around the house. We make a sign saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’.”
Not only do they celebrate inside the home but Aneesa, Maryam and Abd al-Wakil enjoy getting the neighbors involved as well. They choose a few neighbors and by using their masjid (mosque) and camel shaped cookie cutters, they make gingerbread cookies.
“We decorate them with icing and sprinkles and package them really nicely with ribbons and a little card just saying “Happy Ramadan” and add a little blurb about what Ramadan is.” Aneesa knows the neighbors appreciate this exchange of culture because when Christmas comes, her children receive gift baskets filled with chocolates and toys they love.
On the verge of being teenagers, Maryam and Abd al-Wakil know the value that technology has in their lives. One sacrifice they make is to give up all forms of technology during the month of Ramadan. This means no TV, movies, computer games or iPods.
“They see the benefit of it. They see that they are more focused on what the purpose of this month is. We talk about the benefits and the barakah (blessings) of the month so we don’t want to spend a single minute wasting it away because of activities that are more of a distraction.”
Aneesa remembers the nostalgic smells and sounds of Ramadan as a child.
“We’d have chai and fruit chaat, pakoray, samosas and rooh afza every single day. Those are the memories I have which are completely different from the memories my kids have. During Eid, we would go to every relative’s house and the elders would give you an envelope filled with Eidee.”
Back then, Eidee would be money stuffed into an envelope that every child would cherish but now, it has evolved into gift wrapped boxes of toys and games.
As founder of Eastern Toybox, a fair trade, eco-friendly company that sells hand-made Islamic products, from Ramadan calendars to Islamic art to Arabic Alphabet blocks, Aneesa understands the necessity of implementing surprises and gifts for her children. She has two Ramadan calendars hanging in her children’s rooms. These calendars have a surprise inside for each day of Ramadan. When it is time for iftar (opening your fast) every evening, her children get to open their daily surprises.
“They race off upstairs and it’s not all candy, some of it is stickers, or a treat or prize,” said Bozai. “So they look forward to those surprises. What my husband and I look forward to is the expression on their faces as they close their eyes, unbutton the pocket, dig their hands in there and then open their eyes with excitement.”
However, Aneesa stresses the importance of explaining the significance of gratitude and respect to her children and showing them how they can give back to their community during this holy month.
“Whenever we have an iftar at our house or a close friend’s house, we ask all the guests to bring a non-perishable food item. Closer to the end of the month, we can drop it off at a food bank where it can be used. This way, we’re partaking in meals together and thinking of those who are not as fortunate as we are.”
As for Aneesa’s favorite aspect of Ramadan; eating dinner, she says. But not for the reasons you would think.
“You know that in the month of Ramadan, you’re all going to be sitting down together and having a meal together, regardless of how busy your schedule is,” said Bozai. “For me, that’s a big thing. Looking forward to that together time at the dinner table and being grateful for even having that meal at that table.”
How do you get your kids excited for Ramadan? What advice do you have for moms looking for ways to keep it relevant and fun?
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