We're halfway through the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when healthy Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and mothers of all backgrounds are still worrying not only about their own fasts but their children's as well.
Typically a child may fast intermittently from the age of 8 or 9 years old, often with half-day fasts or even quarter-day fasts to gain resilience. But when a young person is in their teens, the obligation to fast during Ramadan becomes more pressing.
Enter: the anxious mothers of teenagers who want to fast but still need guidance and encouragement. We talked with three moms about how they're helping their teens through the fast this month.
3 Moms on How They Help Their Teens Fast During Ramadan
1. Huda Al-Marashi
Huda Al-Marashi is a San Diego author with an upcoming memoir. She has two children who will fast this year: a 15-year-old boy in 10th grade and a 12-year-old girl in 7th grade. Although her son is doing a combination of online high school and community college classes this year and will have a flexible schedule, his workload is heavy and he'll have to power through his final exams while fasting.
Her daughter's main concern is sports. She's spoken to her teacher and asked to be excused from P.E. The two have also chosen to take a break from their regular after-school sport of fencing for the duration of Ramadan, which Al-Marashi hopes will provide an added benefit: more relaxed evenings and time to focus on reciting the Quran, which is often forgotten in the school rush.
Al-Marashi says of the fasting experience in the last few years, especially as her children progressed from half-day fasts to full-day, "Like most moms, I like my kids' bellies to be full, but this also has shown me how capable and strong my kids are. They rise to the occasion every year."
2. Sakeena Rashid
Sakeena Rashid is CEO of the Muslim Writers and Publishers Association in Akron, Ohio. Rashid has a 10-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter who are both fasting this year. Her children were previously in an Islamic private school, where the pressures of Ramadan were easier. The school would close for summer a week before Ramadan began to allow students to fast while at home.
This year, Rashid is homeschooling her daughter and sending her son to a public school. Here, she expects challenges — especially around the lunch period when her son will be expected to sit in the cafeteria. She envisions him drawing, a favorite pastime, but is trying to get him excused altogether. It's a challenge to get public school teachers on board.
Her 10-year-old son is excited about fasting despite the changes in routine this year. Still, she's never been in a hurry for her children to fast full days until they are ready. "I would tell my son that he didn't have to fast the whole day, and that he could just fast half a day," she says. "I wanted (my kids) to learn about Ramadan without feeling overwhelmed. I wanted it to be manageable for them."
3. Naazish Yar Khan
Naazish Yar Khan is a college essay coach in Glendale Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She has a daughter in college and a 16-year-old son who is in 10th grade. She remembers a few years ago when her daughter was on the field hockey team in middle school. Not only would she play while fasting, but she would also ride her bike to and from practices.
Discussing possible challenges related to peer pressure or bullying, Khan explains, "My son wears his religion on his sleeve and is very happy to answer questions about Ramadan and about his fast." The teenager is part of the Muslim Students Association in high school and Khan thinks that camaraderie goes a long way to help all students keep their fasts through the school day.
On Forming New Ramadan Traditions with Their Families
All three women, in keeping with Ramadan cultural traditions from around the world, prepare for Ramadan in ways big and small for themselves and their families. Al-Marashi gives her children free reign to decorate the house as they see fit, and this year her daughter has ordered a Ramadan tree — a lit-up palm tree — for the living room. Other traditions are older, such as a gift exchange her children put on with their cousins each year.
The Khans decorate their front yard with lights, and within their home on the mantel they put up green and gold ornaments, lanterns with candles, and star-shaped lights. Rashid talks with affection about the time a few years ago when she hid candies inside 30 balloons and her children popped one balloon each day as a fun way to get excited about Ramadan. This year she bought Ramadan decoration kits on Etsy and plans to use them as crafts and activities with her children.
Read more: 5 Ways to Make Ramadan Special for Your Kids
Iftar, the meal to break the fast in the evening, is another important tradition during Ramadan. Rashid's daughter has been learning to cook, and plans to help her mother make dishes for Iftar. Khan's children are the opposite, preferring to eat American favorites such as french fries, tater tots, hot dogs, and pancakes to break their fast.
Get inspired: 35 Delicious and Filling Dinner Ideas for Iftar
Muslim mothers all over the world helping their teens fast this year hope their teens are getting enough sleep and food, and that they have energy throughout the holy month. Al-Marashi sums up the entire "Ramadan with teens" experience: "I worry, but then I remember that I got through all of this as a teenager and college student and was just fine. I am sure they will be fine, too. Ultimately, I know how important this practice of self-discipline is, and in this rush, rush, on-demand society, I think it is good for our teens to experience the way Ramadan forces us to slow down and wait to fulfill our needs."