For the month of Ramadan, Muslims spend daylight hours fasting. It’s an exercise in self-control and gratitude, and encourages spiritual reflection. But what’s it like to observe Ramadan while looking after young children? We ask mum-of-three Sumiyyah Balesaria…
Sumiyyah Balesaria lives in east London with her husband and their three children, aged eight, five and 18 months.
Can you explain the reason for fasting in Ramadan?
The purpose of the fast is for our spiritual gain; the submission to a higher authority, to exercise our self-control. The belief that our spirits are housed by a physical being that consistently requires nourishment is exercised through fasting the body but by feeding the soul through words of prayer and meditation. It also allows us to focus on being grateful for what we have, by way of food, drink and shelter, as there many who are less fortunate and often spend days hungry and thirsty. A time for reflection, most certainly.
What does the fasting involve?
Every year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, this is from sunrise until sunset. Of course, the timings for this vary, depending on a person’s location and also the season. Currently, in the UK, fasting begins at approximately 3am and ends at 9pm. During the summer time, the fasts tend to be quite lengthy and in the winter months can be a lot shorter. As Muslims follows the lunar calendar, this changes each year by ten days. Once sunset arrives, we are able to eat, drink and refuel ourselves.
Are you expected to avoid other things during this period?
In addition to food and drink, Muslims are required to give up smoking and intimate relationships – although this is only during the hours of fasting!
How long does it last?
Muslims follow the lunar calendar and Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The period of fasting lasts for approximately 29-30 days every year.
How do you find it, looking after your young kids and not eating in the day-time?
To be honest, it doesn’t feel too bad. Being a mum you are always on the go and I am often guilty of not eating regularly anyway. We tend to eat dinner at about 8pm and fasting generally finishes at about 8.50pm, when the sun sets at the moment, so there is not that much difference. However, there are days when you feel like you could do with a snack. But for me, the spiritual benefits spiritually outweigh all of the hard stuff.
The children are generally at school so it doesn’t feel too stressful. They don’t need much entertaining, except for weekends. I did find it difficult when the children were at home and we were fasting during the summer holidays but that has passed now, thankfully! That said, we have lots of activities in and around the area that keep them entertained.
I think it is all about mentally preparing yourself and we tend to do this weeks in advance.
Do your children take part?
The fast break meal, known as ‘iftaar’ is often a communal event. The entire family sit down to eat together, including the children. Shildren are not required to fast but instead are encouraged in other areas, such as joining in the family meal, prayer, charitable acts. Often during this month, Muslims donate more to charity. Children are also encouraged to decorate the home for Ramadan and to share food with neighbours, friends and also those who are less fortunate.
My children and I make a small gift box for other children and families. Together, we fill the box with handmade cards, gifts, toys and chocolates for families who are hunger-stricken, victims of famine, war etc.
How do you feel at the end?
A huge sense of achievement is felt at the end of the month. A feeling of rejuvenation, spiritual and mental cleansing. Many liken it to a physical and spiritual detox. I definitely feel a better connection within my own mind and body.
How do you celebrate once it’s over?
The end of Ramadan is marked by the celebration of Eid, which is also the beginning of the next calendar month. During this day we perform a special Eid prayer in the morning, this is usually done at the mosque. The rest of the day is spent amongst our family and friends. We eat, drink, exchange gifts. Our homes are beautifully decorated, and we exchange cards with one another – basically, we celebrate and eat!
Many organisations and charities set up events on the day to feed members of the community who are unable to be with their loved ones, less able etc, a well-cooked meal.
Do you have any tips for other muslim mothers with young kids who are observing Ramadan?
Routines, daily timetable of activities, menu planning and online shopping!
These are an absolute must for me. I am an avid believer of routines with the children, and that basically helps keep me sane. Make sure nap-times, meal times, bedtime etc are all adhered to for a smoother ride and so you can break your fast and eat in peace. I do sometimes let my older two stay up on weekends for a bit so they can join us when we break our fast, as it’s nice for them to be involved.
Menu planning – this goes without saying for me, even outside of Ramadan. Plan your meals and shopping on a weekly basis. So I make a menu and order all my food and bits every Sunday or Monday. That includes packed lunch planning too.
Make a timetable of activities – again, we also do this during the school holidays. Find out whats going on in and around your area. And if you don’t fancy travelling far, most boroughs have websites with free local activities, children’s centres, playgroup etc. Make full use of them.