“Bangun, bangun, bangun!”
My dad used to call these Malay words for “Wake up, wake up, wake up!” before dawn so my siblings and I could eat sahur before the sun rose during the month of Ramadan. Growing up Muslim in Malaysia, I have fond memories of those early mornings and preparing to fast. At sunset, the streets were quiet and empty as Muslim families all over the neighborhood gathered in their houses for iftar when we could finally eat again. It was a special and sacred time of year.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam follows the lunar calendar, and the dates for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr–the celebration at the end of Ramadan—change every year. During this holy month, Muslims renew their spiritual beliefs by abstaining from all food and liquids from sunrise to sundown. Children, the elderly, those who are sick, and pregnant women do not have to fast. It is a time of generosity and reflection, and Muslims often perform good deeds by engaging in charity and partaking in additional spiritual activities, such as extra prayers or Quran readings at the mosque.
The Quran is the holy book of Islam, like the Bible in Christianity or the Torah in Judaism. According to the Quran, during this holy month, the Prophet Muhammad, the last and most important prophet in Islam, received the revelations of the Quran from Allah, or God. For Muslims around the world, Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr are the most celebrated occasions of the year.
Families celebrate Eid al-Fitr by visiting each others’ homes, cooking up feasts of traditional foods, and donning new festive clothes. Children typically receive envelopes containing money as they visit their extended family and friends’ houses. People play traditional music and set off fireworks as well. The lively and joyful festival goes on for a few days.
If you are interested in exploring the Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr celebrations with your children, try the following activities:
- Read Lailah’s Lunchbox. This Ramadan-themed story by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon is about a Muslim girl who figures out a way to help her classmates understand her religion and its traditions.
- Decorate a Ramadan Coloring Page. Arabic calligraphy is beautiful. Your child can get creative as they color this calligraphy page that says, “Generous Ramadan.”
- Make Mosque Pictures. Help your child find their inner architect with this Ramadan-themed art activity.
- Complete What Is Ramadan? Learn more about Ramadan by filling in the blanks and reading this passage.
- Make a Crescent Moon and Star. The crescent moon and star is the symbol of Islam. It is especially important for Ramadan because the sighting of the new crescent moon marks the beginning and end of the holy month.
- Compare and connect. Discuss parallels between Ramadan and fasting with your religion or another faith you have learned about. One example may be giving up something for Lent before Easter.
Islam is one of the major religions with around 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. Learning about other faiths and traditions fosters tolerance and empathy—important skills for all of our young people.
By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.