By Amreen Pathan
I recently came across this article on the BBC website and was overcome with incredulity and quite frankly, a ‘lol’ feeling which accurately sums up the ridiculous nature of the concerns expressed by authorities in Germany regarding fasting children.
So here are my thoughts and understanding of the matter of children and fasting:
Is it incumbent upon children to fast?
The legal Islamic ruling is that fasting is obligatory upon every mature Muslim. Maturity in this context means puberty. Therefore it is not necessary for children to fast until they reach the age of puberty.
Does this mean my children should not fast until they reach puberty?
Not at all; if children have the physical strength and fortitude to fast, then by all means they could be encouraged to do so.
Bearing in mind the nature of the longer fasts in the spring and summer months in the UK, sensibility is advised. The fasts are currently approximately 16-17 hours long which can be a challenging prospect for even adults.
If keen to experience some of the fasting month, children under the age of 11 could begin by abstaining from food and drink (or just food) for a few hours under close supervision to ensure their wellbeing.
Children over the age of 11 who have not yet reached puberty, could fast for half a day.
Those more willing to challenge themselves (and have not yet reached puberty) could fast the entire day but on weekends to warrant maximum rest.
What if my child insists on fasting for a half or full day and is then unable to complete the fast?
Please note, as the ruling of fasting does not apply to children under the age of puberty, leniency must be adopted. If a child attempts to fast and feels weak and unwell, then they must be allowed to break their fast earlier than intended.
Subsequently, it will not be necessary for them to make up the ‘broken’ fast on a later day.
What about post-pubescent children and young adults who must attend school or further education and potentially even sit exams?
Put simply, the obligation of knowledge does not trump the obligation of fasting in Ramadan.
Fasting is not meant to be easy. If Ramadan was intended to be a walk in the park, then of what benefit would this be to anyone? The whole point of Ramadhan is to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. This is why fasting is considered to be an immense act of devotion to one’s Creator and subsequently so highly rewarded.
All acts of worship require some level of sacrifice which in turn warrants patience, resilience and discipline. Thus post-pubescent children must not forgo the fast in lieu of educational concerns.
‘Allah intends (to provide) ease for you and does not intend (to create) hardship for you.’ (2:185)
Allah Almighty only ordains upon his people what they can endure and brace themselves for. This is just one aspect of Allah’s mercy.
In the context of fasting then, if a student who is fasting was to become ill or suffer from hunger and thirst to a degree of physical harm, then it would be necessary to break the fast and be relieved by means of food, water and if need be, the administration of medicine.*
Similarly, the obligatory ruling of fasting does not extend to a sick, travelling or menstruating student.
*Please note the importance of consulting with a reliable scholar on an individual basis for any scenario that warrants the breaking of a fast or a missed fast for whatever reason.
What provisions can I make for a mature child who is facing exam and school pressure whilst fasting?
Understanding the extent of the sacrifice in relation to fasting is key. Why? Because once the level of commitment and expectation is acknowledged, then a person can also make the necessary preparations.
We learn about the importance of preparing for the month of Ramadan from the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. For example, the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised the Muslim Ummah to read the following in anticipation of Ramadan:
‘O Allah, bless us in the months of Rajab and Sha’ban ad enable us to reach Ramadan.’
This is a form of mental preparation whereby a Muslim is encouraged to consider the significance of such a month and manifest their longing for its arrival.
Similarly then, we must expect some form or hardship in Ramadan and prepare for it especially combined with the psychological and physical toll exams and studies can have on a person.
For fasting children, such preparation might look like:
- Preparing and committing to a timetable prior to Ramadan to make learning and revision more manageable.
- Ensuring a healthy diet for Suhoor and Iftaar as a poor diet (be it excessive or limited), will inevitably affect both the body and the brain.
- As sleep will be disturbed in the night due to prayers and the early morning meal, schedule some sleep time during the day.
- Consistently offering children words of encouragement and support to assure them that their efforts will not be in vain as Allah Almighty loves both the fasting person and the student of knowledge!
What are some tips you might offer to a fasting pupil or a concerned parent? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
#Ramadan #Fasting #ShouldChildrenFast?