Australian Muslim children are being introduced to fasting during the month of Ramadan. Here’s what they say about it – ABC News

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While young children are exempt from fasting in the Islamic month of Ramadan, many Australian Muslim families say it’s good to start having conversations with their kids about the tradition.

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Shazma Gaffoor, a mother of two daughters aged five and seven, told the ABC that her kids were curious and started fasting on their own. 

“It wasn’t more so of me teaching than it was of them basically watching us,” Ms Gaffoor said.

“They were more curious regarding how we fast.”

Ms Gaffoor said it was important to listen to her children’s “cues” before letting them take part by abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

“Because if not, it just becomes coerced and they’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” she said.

This year is the second year her seven-year-old Shahana has fasted for Ramadan — although not for a month, which began on April 12 and will most likely finish on May 12.

“Fasting is sometimes hard, sometimes easy,” Shahana said, adding she always looked forward to eating toasties when the sun set.

Last year, she received a certificate from her aunty for fasting for five days during Ramadan.

This year Ms Gaffoor said her daughter had already fasted for eight days so far.

Ramadan Kids photo

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

Dr Rubina Hameed, a paediatrician based in Melbourne, said, for chidlren, fasting is voluntary “with younger children encouraged to do several little fasts in the day” according to their capability.

She said studies have shown intermittent fasting helps in cellular repair and growth by decreasing insulin levels and increasing growth hormone.

“Children copy what adults do. If adults do in a right way, children will learn the right habits for life,” she said.

“So introduce (fasting) by being a good role model by eating healthy food in the right portions, by having a positive attitude to food and drink, by teaching them about being grateful for the food and rewarding them and praising them for taking part in it.”

She said fasting helps in reducing total caloric intake and increasing metabolic rate, therefore it assists in weight management that could also benefit for a number of children.

The meaning behind fasting

AIA iftar

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

Traditionally, children are only expected to begin fasting for Ramadan once they have reached puberty. 

But Ms Gafoor said for her it depended on the capability of her children.

“If Shahana didn’t fast the whole day or couldn’t go past a few hours, I’d be totally OK with that because that’s her telling me that that’s her capacity,” she said. 

“But I think having a conversation about it is great when they’re really young.”

Belal Assaad is a teacher and student counsellor at the Australian International Academy of Education (AIA), a Muslim school in Melbourne.

Mr Assaad said teaching children the values and morals behind fasting before allowing them to do it was important.

“Fasting is not only spiritually good to teach the kids but it’s also a healthy way of getting used to good diet and having a discipline of how to monitor their eating habits,” he told the ABC.

But they don’t necessarily fast from dawn till sunset like adult Muslims, Mr Assaad said.

Belal Assaad 2

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

“Children are not obliged to fast because they have growing bodies and would need to eat and drink for their nutrition,” he said.

He said abstaining from eating and drinking, which was “very natural, permissible, and even good for ourselves”, showed we had the power to control ourselves.  

“If you can do that, then you have the power and the strength that is innate in you to also stop yourself from other bad things, such anger, violence, and verbal abuse against other people,” he said.

“Fasting is actually about stopping yourself and avoiding from harming other people with your tongue, actions, and your treatment.”

While children may not be mature enough to understand the entire concept of fasting in Ramadan, Mr Assaad said parents and teachers could begin by having open dialogues with children and setting positive examples.

“Parents then can say, ‘you’re capable of being patient’,” he said. 

“This is the whole idea. It’s about patience. It’s about resilience.”

Student iftar

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

How do Australian Muslim kids feel when they fast?

Several Islamic schools including the AIA came together last week to break their daily fast together at an iftar dinner. 

The children were excited to get together and have their first food and drink since sunrise. 

Many of the AIA students said they actually looked forward to the month of fasting.

Nidal Rafei

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

Year six student Nidal Rafei said Ramadan was a “fun time of the year”.

“We get more time to spend with your family and friends over the dinner table,” he said. 

“Ramadan is about a spiritual reflection to me, it teaches me patience, self-control, and resilience.

“In Ramadan it teaches me how the poor people feel.”

Mariam Saleh, 11, said fasting during the day made her feel great. 

MariamSaleh

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

“And it’s not only waiting for the food at the end of the day.

“Fasting throughout the day teaches me [to have] patience and empathy towards those who don’t have what we have.”

Year six student Aliyah Surgers said while fasting made her happy, it was also challenging. 

She said fasting has led her to “do more good things” and discouraged her from bad habits such as being lazy.

Ramadan was “a month of training” to build better habits all year, she added.

Aliyah Surgers

ABC News: Erwin Renaldi

Mr Assad said the school cut study hours and had shorter recesses during Ramadan to support students who were fasting.

The students were also involved in charitable events, such as collecting non-perishable food to be distributed to asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups. 

Mr Assad said parents were invited to be involved in the projects to make it become “more of a community work”.

Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam and during Ramadan all Muslims are encouraged to give back.

“The aim is to teach them about serving each other, helping each other, empathy and thinking about the other fellow person,” Mr Assaad said.

This content was originally published here.

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