Hooray! Ramadan is here!
Ramadan, also known as Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan, is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims all around the world observe this month as they fast, pray, and gather with their communities.
Different cultures across the globe have different traditions, but all Muslims recognize Ramadan as a time of self-improvement, spiritual cleansing, increased devotion, and focus on good deeds and charity.
Fasting during Ramadan
When Muslims fast for Ramadan, the fast lasts from sunup to sunset. This means the length of the fast is different around the world. There are special provisions in places like Alaska, where the sun can be up for over 24 hours! The lunar calendar shifts every year. Therefore, sometimes Ramadan is in the winter, when days are short and nights are long. Sometimes, Ramadan falls in the summer, with days that seem endless!
When fasting for Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink anything – not even water! – during daylight hours.
Instead, Muslims eat when it is dark, both before sunrise and after sunset. The meal before the sun rises is called suhoor. It can be whatever you like to eat and drink in the morning. Our family likes fried eggs with avocado and a glass of milk. The fast is broken at sunset with a meal called iftar.
Muslims often break the fast with a date. Then, it follows with the teaching of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). After eating a date and having some water, it’s time for the iftar meal. The iftar meal can be whatever you like! My daughter, Beti, loves samosas for iftar. Traditionally, we also have fruit and chai, which is spiced tea with cream and sugar.
Before COVID, our community would meet at our local mosque (house of worship) to pray together before sharing the iftar meal. We would all bring food – everything from savory appetizers to sweet treats – and share with everyone! During the month of Ramadan, our mosque would hold an annual baking competition, as well as activities such as community sports, trivia games, and shopping nights to prepare for the Eid-al-Fitr festivities at the end of the month.
Preparing for Ramadan
Ramadan is a big deal in the Muslim world, and our family loves to decorate our home for the holiday. We have a wreath, in the shape of the crescent moon, and a star that we hang on the front door.
A crescent moon is the signal of a new Islamic month, which is why crescent moons are often used in Ramadan décor. Our family also uses lanterns, or fanous, as decorations. Lanterns, especially the fanous-style ones, signify Ramadan all over the world. Muslims often stay up late at night, eating, shopping, and socializing during the month of Ramadan, and we need light at night to see!
My daughter, Beti, also has a Ramadan countdown calendar. Each box suggests a good deed and is filled with coins. We collect the coins to put into her sadaqah jar and, at the end of the month, we donate them to a charity. The suggested good deeds change every day, but they include things like, “be kind,” “say a dua (prayer),” and “help a neighbor.” Ramadan reminds us to focus on being good Muslims, so we give donations to charities and conduct good deeds throughout the month.
Ramadan nights include a routine that focuses on prayer and other observances. Growing up, my mom would spray rose water on everyone’s faces on the first night of Ramadan. Like many Muslims, she also tried to read the entire Qur’an – 114 chapters! – during the month of Ramadan. Someone who successfully reads or memorizes the entire Qur’an is referred to as hafiz.
Learning about Ramadan
There are so many wonderful books about Ramadan. I’m sharing three of my favorites here. They focus on different cultures that celebrate Ramadan. These books are best for slightly older kids (ages 8 to 13).
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Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien tells us the story of Shirin and her older brother, Ali. Shirin desperately wants to fast, but the adults in her family insist she is too young. Instead, she learns about her family’s Ramadan traditions. She learns about the power of fasting for part of the day and about committing good deeds – even when it comes to her sneaky and snarky brother. The whole time, Shirin and her father look for the moon that signifies the beginning, middle, and end of Ramadan. This #ownvoices book is based in North America and captures the nuance of being Muslim in this country.
The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi and illustrated by Ned Gannon shares a story of a Muslim family based in the Middle East. Noor’s family is getting ready to celebrate Girgian, a holiday in the middle of the month of Ramadan. Noor and her family dress up, collect candy, and celebrate with neighbors. In the end, Noor learns about the most important part of Ramadan when she and her grandfather go to the mosque to share with others.
Finally, The Jinni of the Roof by Natasha Rafi and illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa takes us to South Asia to meet the 7-year-old Raza. Raza is also too young to fast, but he wants to eat paratha (a popular flatbread treat) for suhoor. The naughty Raza devises a plan to trick his cook, Amina, into giving him a delicious paratha before everyone wakes up. However, his Nani (maternal grandmother) foils this plan. By the time the adults are up for suhoor, Raza feels embarrassed by his tricks. This book cracks Beti up. And, kids from all over the world can relate to Raza, the prankster trying to get delicious food by any means possible!
With over 1.8 billion Muslims spread across the globe, there are so many ways to welcome and celebrate Ramadan. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of my family’s traditions. You can also check out the recommended books with children from around the world in the stories.
From my family to yours, Ramadan Kareem (Blessed Ramadan)!
For more children’s book recommendations featuring strong Black and brown characters, check out my site Beti Books! I love sharing media that represents our multicultural family, and I know your family will enjoy it, too.