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How I Let My 6-Year-Old Fast During Ramadan

06/22/2015 05:35 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
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Every mother of a religious faith hopes that her children continue to believe in God as they get older. Some parents enforce religious attire at a young age (even when it is not compulsory for the child to dress in such a manner), while others enforce prayer on a daily basis. Last week, I had a few people ask me if children fast during Ramadan. Children do not fast during Ramadan until they hit puberty. Along with children, there are other "groups" of people that are exempt from fasting.

Six years ago, I could not imagine the day my son would go into grade 1, let along imagine my son asking me if he can fast. Last week, he said to me: "I want to fast with you and dad. Please, please, please!"

I was silent at first, not knowing how to tell him that there is no way I am letting him fast 17 hours. I rarely lie to my kids, but I made the mistake of saying, "OK, maybe on the weekend."

There are some great articles on the advantages of fasting, written by Muslims and non-Muslims. Some explain the advantages from the spiritual aspect, while others explain it from the scientific aspect. In addition, fasting during Ramadan is not just about the lack of food and water consumption, it is far greater than that. Nonetheless, that does mean I am going to let my six-year-old starve himself.

The weekend came along and my son was determined to fast on Sunday, Father's Day. He wanted to wake up with us at 3 a.m. to eat and stay up until 9 p.m. to break his fast. I explained to him that waking him at 3 a.m. is impossible as he sleeps like someone who has been tranquilized and letting him stay up past 9 p.m. on a school night is just not going to happen. So we compromised. He could start fasting after breakfast until early dinner. My husband was proud and encouraging and was happy that our son was excited to be a part of something that is important to us. I, on the other hand, secretly hoped that the Starbucks cookie would entice him to cave. Sure enough, the ginger cookies at my brother's place did it -- his fast was over at lunch time and I was relieved.

I cannot remember the first time I wanted to fast. I assume it was a compromised fast also, until I was a teenager. I grew up in an interesting household where religion was definitely part of our daily life but very moderately, probably because one of my parents practised far more than the other. I was never pressured to pray or fast, though it was mandatory for me and my brother to attend Islamic classes. With regards to fasting, my dad and I would often argue about fasting, with him being unhappy with me fasting through exams. My marks always turned out to the satisfaction of my parents (and to mine) so eventually he stopped arguing with me. At the time, I thought he was being unsupportive and I could not understand why he would be against me following the ways of the religion he raised me in. I can now understand that he was just trying to protect me.

When I met my husband, it was obvious religion was important to him but it was not part of his daily life. I never pressured him to pray as I knew that would be a lost cause. However, sooner rather than later, he decided to incorporate prayer into his daily life. He acknowledged that he was just being lazy and seeing me practise with such ease provided him with the motivation that he was seeking. Now 10 years into our marriage, we now equally provide the strength and support to each other to practise our religion at a pace we are both comfortable with and, most importantly, try to be better people, which is the core of Islam and every other religion out there.

I think everyone has a different threshold of what they can tolerate. Some people can do it all, some cannot do any of it, and most of us fall somewhere in between. No matter what religion you practise and what aspects of that religion you practise, it is always a challenge finding the perfect balance between your beliefs, what people expect out of you, what you expect of yourself, and competing interests and values. I believe in educating myself and not being quick to judge. However, the truth is, if another mom did let her young child fast 17 hours, I would think that is nuts!

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