During this holy month, parents teach their children about fasting and faith.
THIS Ramadan, seven-year-old Zara Aaliyah Nazrudin is taking a big step in her spiritual journey. For the first time, she is participating in her full fast, from dawn to dusk. Zara has looked forward to fasting during the holy month as it is an important rite of passage for her.
“Daddy wakes me up at 5am for sahur. During fasting month, I sleep by 8.30pm so I can wake up in time for sahur. Sahur is fun because I get to eat some of my favourite breakfast treats like smoothies, fruits and pastries. I feel like an adult as I get to eat with my parents,” says Zara, the eldest of three siblings.
Zara has been doing partial fasts since she was four years old. She first started out with half day fasts, lasting from sahur till noon. Last year, she fasted till 3pm. It’s been over a week since she started doing a full fast, and so far she has done well.
“It’s not as difficult as it seems. The trick is to eat well and drink lots of water during sahur and when you break fast. Mummy has reduced my sports activities as she doesn’t want me to get too exhausted during puasa month,” says the friendly child.
Her mother, entrepreneur Sheahnee Iman Lee, 38, says it was Zara’s decision to complete a full day’s fast for the entire month.
“I gave her strict guidelines on when to stop, such as if she gets dizzy or dehydrated. But amazingly, she has managed to pull through. My husband and I are very proud of her,” says the former Ntv7 news presenter, who embraced Islam after marrying fellow TV host Nazrudin Habibur Rahman, 39.
This Ramadan, Sheahnee and Nazrudin have encouraged their second child, five-year-old Zakry Aiman, to fast for half a day, from dawn till 1pm. Both children have coped well without any complaints.
“Thankfully, they have been fasting pretty well. Although they are often lethargic by mid-afternoon, they are in good spirits and go about their usual activities without much hassle,” says Nazrudin, adding that fasting isn’t merely about depriving oneself of food and water but also cleansing the mind and soul from negative thoughts and emotions.
Sheahnee believes Zara’s positive and driven attitude has helped her fast.
“When she sets her mind on something, she really strives hard to achieve it. We were initially concerned if she could do a full day’s fast. But we noted her positive attitude and decided to give her our fullest encouragement,” says Sheahnee, who also sends Zakry and Zara for Quran classes to deepen their understanding of Islam.
Sheahnee and Nazrudin have also given Zara and Zakry a Ramadan journal so they can keep track of their fasting experience. Besides anecdotes and prayers, the book contains activities to motivate children while they fast.
There are pages with smiley faces which children can colour if they have achieved certain goals throughout the day.
“Something as simple as smiling is considered a charitable act in Islam and it is rewarded with a smiley face in the journal.
“We also have a treasure jar where the children are encouraged to save money to donate to the less fortunate,” says Nazrudin, who reads stories on Muslim prophets and Islam during the fasting month to his children.
Sheahnee hopes the Ramadan journal will help Zara and Zakry reflect on the spirit and meaning of fasting, rather than on goals like breaking fast feasts or Hari Raya festivities.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five obligations that every Muslim must fulfil. During the holy month, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and they are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual acts.
Those exempted from fasting are prepubescent children, the mentally unsound and the elderly. There are also those who can postpone their fasting, such as acutely ill patients, and women who are menstruating or pregnant.
Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia’s Ustaz Dr Sayyid Al Kazimi says Muslim children are encouraged to fast from a young age to ensure they grow up steadfast in their faith.
“If a seven-year-old child can fast continuously for three days without any difficulties, the child is considered able to fast voluntarily. At 10 years old, parents can compel their children to fast. If they find it difficult, leave them be till they reach puberty,” explains Dr Sayyid.
During Ramadan, Muslim parents are encouraged to teach their children how to read the Quran. Children are also encouraged to participate in Ramadan programmes and alms giving.
“Muslim children are urged to participate in terawih prayers and celebrate iftar with their Muslim and non-Muslim friends. They are also taught to partake in righteous activities such as ziarah (visiting relatives and friends),” says Dr Sayyid.
Mother-of-four Fauziah Ismail makes it a point to include her children in religious activities during the holy month.
After breaking fast, Fauziah and husband Ameer Alphonso, 45, take their children – Aleeya Andrianna, 13, Aleesha Areanna, 10, Aleena Adreanna, seven, and Ayden Aaqeel, five – for prayers at their neighbourhood mosque, Madrasahtur Rahmaniyah, in Kampung Medan, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Fauziah says praying in a congregation helps her children strengthen their faith and deepen their understanding of the religion.
“At the mosque, they can listen to the khutbah (talks) and mingle with other children who are also
there to learn more about the religion,” says the 40-year-old management trainer.
Fauziah also helps to organise potluck gatherings to break fast, sadaqah sessions (the act of giving charity to the poor, single mothers and the disabled) and even muruku competitions.
Her children are actively involved in terawih prayers and Malam Tujuh Likur (a Malay custom in which oil lamps are lit), as well as praying until the early hours of morning on the last 10 nights hoping to witness Lailatul Qadr (the night when the Quran was revealed and when the angels descended).
“My children are involved in charitable acts such as giving out food and donations to the poor. Through these activities, they understand their religious duties and the importance of acts of kindness during the holy month.”
Their mother has taught Aleeya and Aleesha well about the the importance of charity. During Ramadan, the girls go the extra mile to help Fauziah with household chores and food preparation.
“For sahur, Aleesha helps to set the table while Aleeya wakes up her younger siblings. We usually eat a light meal, with bread, cereals, eggs and porridge. Dates, a healthy energy source, is another must have during sahur and iftar,” she says, adding her three eldest daughters are doing full fasts this Ramadan.
During Ramadan, it is important for children to have a balanced diet with sufficient calories, vitamins and minerals.
They also must have lots of fluids, especially water, to prevent muscle breakdown, support physical activity and health and avoid dehydration.
“Sugary foods or drinks may increase cravings and cause fatigue while high consumption of salty foods such as processed meats, fast food and junk food may increase thirst,” says Tuanku Mizan Armed Forces Hospital’s dietitian Major Razni Shauna Abdul Razak.
She advises training children to eat smaller meals, prior to the fasting month, and aim for balanced meals with protein, fibre, healthy fats and water.
“Make complex carbohydrates the major source of carbohydrate in the diet. Whole grains should make up at least half of grain intake because they are more nutritious and slow digestion,” says Major Razni.
Eating fibre during sahur keeps children full. The best source of fibre are beans, whole grains and brown rice. Eat sufficient portions of fruit and vegetables (five to 10 servings daily or half the serving plate). Protein delays hunger and provides energy. Include proteins such as fish, white meat, legumes and nuts, and seeds, recommends Major Razni.
“Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, nut butter and olives keep children full longer. Avoid excessive fat intake, solid fats, and food containing trans fatty acids. Include low-fat dairy products in the diet. Avoid unhealthy fats or fried food as much as possible as it may promote fatigue and lead to unhealthy weight gain.”
Major Razni says it may be difficult for children to wake up early for sahur.
“Get them to sahur at 6.30am instead of 5.30am. Encourage them to fast for a few hours, then gradually extend the fasting period. Distract children with activities such as drawing, writing journals and reading the Quran. If they manage to fast for a full day, reward them with books.”
Nazrudin (left) and Sheahnee breaking fast with their children Zakry, Zayd (centre) and Zara during the fasting month. — Photos: IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star
Below: Zara and Zakry learn about Ramadan with the support of their parents.
Each day, Zara (right) and Zakry fill up their My Ramadan Journal.
Fauziah (right) and her family members having light snacks, comprising bread, cereal and porridge, for sahur. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star.