When this Ramadan began, I was full of ideas for my three beautiful step daughters. Visions of trivia games, Qur’an reading activities and sadaqah challenges swirled in my head. I was sure that the activities would be a hit and planned to spring the surprise on them as soon as Ramadan began. While setting goals for the girls, I was also creating a plan of action for myself. Pretty soon the lists of activities, goals, supplies, and groceries seemed endless. This didn’t even include meal prepping, home schooling and everyday responsibilities! I was getting overwhelmed just thinking about it. As Ramadan drew near, and I grew tired of watching crafting and Ramadan prep videos; I decided to scrap my original plan and think more personally about the girls and what might appeal to them. I wanted this Ramadan to be a turning point for them, as they are all reaching turning points in their lives. When you are young, everything is a learning experience. My goal for the girls this year was to teach them something new, to give them a new experience. Hosting a tween/teen iftar ended up being the perfect tool to convey many Islamic and life lessons, while keeping the event fun without being preachy.
The oldest of the three will be entering high school in the Fall, the middle is becoming a teen, and the youngest will be entering middle school. Needless to say, with the end of the school year and state testing right at the beginning of Ramadan, they would probably be less than enthused at having more responsibilities added to their plate. I wondered what would be most beneficial to the girls right now. And then it dawned on me. They have been working so hard all year. School is becoming more difficult and time-consuming; the responsibilities of home are increasing as they get older, and they rarely get to spend time with their friends due to scheduling conflicts. Time to relax and socialize with their friends would be a welcomed change from their regular routine. So, I decided to present them with the idea of having an iftar for a few of their friends.
Although I love the idea of home schooling, it has always been my belief that one of its few pitfalls is the lack of socialization. For younger children, this can be a benefit, as there are few distractions interfering with their first few years of learning. However; for older children who are curious about friendships and how to relate to others, home schooling can present a challenge to the development of their social skills. Alhamdulillah the girls stay busy with plenty of family activities, as well as spending time with friends after jumu’ah every week. But I believed that having their own iftar would not only exercise their socialization and relationship-building skills, but it would also allow them to gather for the sake of Allah and worship specifically with some of their friends. It would give them some control over a small part of their Ramadan activities, as opposed to just being taken to adult events where there happened to be other children.
I presented the idea to the girls, and they loved it. Relieved at having at least one Ramadan plan confirmed, I began the planning stage. One thing about tweens, teens, and girls in general is that they have a lot of opinions! Brainstorming about a meal plan, the guest list, decorations, and start time became a daily activity. They practiced their right to choose, even if it was something as small as what plates to use or dessert to prepare. I could sometimes hear them talking amongst themselves, trying to come to an agreement about the details. It opened the lines of communication between them and their friends, as the iftar became a topic of conversation after jumu’ah. They were also able to use problem-solving skills to address the concerns of their friends who did not receive invitations. Using skills such as empathy and kindness to reassure their friends was necessary, and they met the challenge beautifully. These might seem like small advances, or even reaches to some, but I believe that these situations and practices help children to develop into well-adjusted adults. These are necessary life skills.
The day of the iftar was very busy. We made last minute runs to the store, cleaned house and spent the afternoon cooking. We worked together effectively, gone were the usual protests. Each of the girls had assigned tasks and they worked together in an organized manner to get them done quickly and efficiently. No one complained; and at the end of a long day of preparation, they gave each other nods of approval. Teamwork can sometimes be difficult for children when it comes to household chores. However, if a common goal is put before them, this often gives them purpose and motivation toward a job done well and without complaint. One at a time, they busied themselves with getting showered and dressed once the housework was done. Earlier in the day the oldest made a cake; the youngest made cookies, and they both took a moment before the guests arrived to add last minute touches to their desserts. Performing tasks to the best of our ability is a part of Islam. The girls took time to ensure that the food was presentable, the decorations just right, and that their home was ready to receive guests.
One by one friends showed up and were greeted by their hostesses. I happily remained in the background, demoted to waitress, as they welcomed friends into their home and entertained with grace. Some of the invited guests were not known to everyone, and I watched as they all formed new bonds, and found their places in this circle of young sisterhood. There is such a beauty to observing young Muslimahs, full of promise and hope. They have so much going for them, the best of which is this beautiful way of life, al-Islam. And as I watched them break fast together, stand foot to foot in prayer, and laugh the evening away over plates made with love, I was overcome with gratitude. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala blesses those who come together for His sake, and those who remove a hardship from another. These young women may not comprehend the vastness of the blessings that were upon them that night. But I know; and I felt honored to be a part of their evening, and grew just as much as they did, if not more.
Ramadan is a wonderful time to teach your children about Islam, and life in general. Books, games and learning activities are great teaching tools. However, let us not forget that many children learn from hands on practice. It is sometimes through experiences that we learn our greatest lessons. I would encourage you to give your children the opportunity to have an iftar of their own. The lessons that they will learn during the process are numerous and invaluable.
Razan Gregory is an American revert, and East Coast native. She was captivated by words at birth, performed spoken word before she could walk, and wrote her first short story at the age of ten. One of her most treasured gifts as a child was an antique manual typewriter. Razan’s writing and editing career spans 25 years of early mornings and late nights laden with coffee and green tea; and includes projects for government agencies, organizations, and individuals. She shares her space with a freelance hubby, tribe of home-schooled kiddos, and two snugglicious felines. She writes in the gaps. You can find Razan and all of her musings at her newly-created blog, prolificmuslimah.wordpress.com.