Tonight is the beginning of the Muslin holiday season of Ramadan.
Ramadan is celebrated by 1 billion Muslims worldwide. But if you’re not one of them, you may not know what the holiday is about. From being kind to those less fortunate, to putting a cap on lying, the holiday has a lot of great principles to offer—no matter what your religion.
First, the basics: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which was first penned in about 600 A.D. The Islamic calendar is lunar, not solar, and unlike a holiday like Christmas (which falls on the same date every year) Ramadan begins on a different date each year—whenever the first sliver of the crescent moon, in the ninth month, appears.
For kids, the most striking thing about Ramadan is the fasting. People who celebrate the holiday eat only when it’s dark outside. From the first light of dawn, until the sun goes down, Muslims don’t eat or drink anything. For kids, the concept of no food can be hard to swallow! But not eating anything gives Muslims time to focus on other things.
For example, during Ramadan, celebrants spend more time with family. They pledge not to tell any lies, not to gossip, and not to be greedy. Those too sick or too old to fast are asked to feed one needy person each day of the month. And everyone who celebrates Ramadan is asked to do as many good deeds as they possibly can over the course of the holiday.
“The prophet Muhammad was very generous at all times, but in some portions of the scripture it says that he was generous like the wind during the month of Ramadan,” says Mohamed El-sanousi, Director of Community Outreach and Communications for the Islamic Society of America, the largest umbrella group of Muslims in the U.S. “This is a month of giving. Of healing and caring. It is a time for people to remember those who are less fortunate and an opportunity to reinforce the spiritual reasons behind fighting hunger and poverty,” he says. Even if you don’t celebrate Ramadan, here are a few things you can do to teach your kids a little more about it:
- Be kind to others. Sure, Santa may not be looking to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice for another few months. And trying to get into the “good book” for Yom Kippur isn’t for several more weeks. But every day is a good day to teach your kids the importance of helping others. This is a key principle of Ramadan.
- Make more time for the people you love. During Ramadan, people make an extra effort to visit with friends and family. Make it a point to plan get-togethers with the people in your life that are most important. Drop in on an elderly relative. Invite all the cousins over for Family Fridays all month long. Use Ramadan to jumpstart a regular routine of visiting with friends and family and teach your kids that keeping those ties strong should be a major goal all year long.
- Plan dinner in the dark. Pick a day during the month to show your kids what it would be like to celebrate Ramadan. Invite them to fast for the day, or for a portion of it. Then plan a special dinner for after sunset. “The tradition is to break the fast with dates, water, and milk,” says El-sanousi, “That is the same for all. But the dinner afterwards is very different from culture to culture within the Islamic community.
It seems to me that everyone if every faith can agree that being kind, making time for loved ones, and appreciating what you'ce got are good practices for our children. So during Ramadan, Advent, Passover or whatever holy season you celebrate, take the time to show your children these basic actions, and how practicing them brings us all that much closer together!
Oh, and “Ramadan Mubarak”,
or Happy Ramadan!