OPINION: Should children be allowed to fast during Ramadan?

Even though it's not compulsory many young children fast for the full month of Ramadan.
Even though it's not compulsory many young children fast for the full month of Ramadan.

I remember coming home from school during Ramadan in Grade 2, starving and thirsty. After spending the previous night begging my mother to let me fast the whole day, by 2:30pm the next afternoon I was done! She let me break my fast and then we agreed that I’d only fast 'til I got home from school.

These days I’m so used to it that the hunger doesn’t even phase me. Ramadan is a month of fasting, charity and improving your relationship with your Creator.

But should children fast or be allowed to fast during Ramadan?

Children and fasting

It is not compulsory for children who have not reached adolescence to fast, although they do start practicing from around the age of 6. The reason parents let their children fast is to get them into the routine and also to help them understand why we fast.

Nabeweya Malick of the Muslim Judicial Council says: “Fasting teaches children that their desires are secondary, it is submission to Allah (SWT)’s law which comes first. This is a primary lesson for a believer and would strengthen the young adult when tested with other challenges in life”.

Different families have different rules regarding this practice. Some parents only allow their kids to fast when they reach adolescence. Others help their children to slowly get used to fasting by allowing them to fast 'half day' which for younger children would be until 12pm or 2nd interval. For kids a bit older they would break their fast after school. Other parents let their children fast the whole day. This may be for the entire month, while others will alternate with a whole and half day.

TV watching in the fast

We all know how kids love to watch TV. It’s become a national pastime. While TV watching is not forbidden it is discouraged.

Muslims are encouraged to read and learn from the Quran during this month and anything else that can distract from this is discouraged, like mindless TV watching for hours on end.

That is not to say the TV itself cannot go on. There are Islamic channels that broadcast Ramadan appropriate content which can be watched as this can also increase their knowledge and understanding of Islam.

This is a month where parents have more time to teach and focus on their children’s Islamic knowledge and also to build stronger bonds with them.

Ramadan traditions for the whole family

In Cape Town during Ramadan neighbours often make sweet or savoury treats to exchange with each other. The idea behind this is to ensure that everyone has something to break their fast with. Children deliver these treats, which teaches them that giving is better than receiving, as well as to care for others. It’s a tradition that many kids look forward to every year and this also builds good neighbour relations.

Children may get rewarded with little presents by their parents if they fasted the entire month for the whole day. This is a great achievement as well as a difficult one, so we try to show them that we're all proud of them in this way.

Eid-ul-Fitr, the festive day that signifies the end of Ramadan, is also a special day for kids. When visiting family and friends on this day they will get given money. This is because they have fasted. But these days kids get it regardless of whether or not they fasted whole day for the entire month, half day or at all.

So Ramadan is a time where parents can teach their kids about their faith and help to strengthen it. It’s an important decision whether a parent allows their child to fast or not, but this can build their character in teaching them patience, empathy and understanding.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Do you think children should take part in religious fasts? Share your thoughts with us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments. 

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