Raising little Muslims abroad
Raising a child in a Western country has its challenges, none more so than passing on our rich. Bengali heritage and Islamic traditions. In a land saturated by Christmas and Easter events, how do I make Eid relevant and fun for my pre-schooler? How do I instil in him the same joy and excitement I would feel upon spotting the crescent moon that signals the start of Ramadan or Eid? What can I do to create warm, fuzzy memories that he can fondly look back upon and associate with Eid, the same way I do? And more importantly, how do I weave in the moral lessons of kindness, generosity and gratitude that are the cornerstones upon which these festivals, and our culture, are based upon?
While I’ve ensured the traditions we grew up with remained intact -- meticulously wrapping new clothes for Eid presents and diffusing the house with delicious aromas of polau – korma, while the kids were allowed to run amok with tara batti (sparklers) -- I wanted to create activities that the children could relate to and explain easily to their friends. So I had to get creative about how I went about familiarizing them with Ramadan and Eid. And when my creative juices dried up, I hopped on the ever-reliable Pinterest to draw inspiration from.
Here are four Eid and Ramadan related activities I’ve introduced in our house over the past few years:
1. 30 days of Ramadan, the Eid advent calendar
Inspired by the Christian advent calendar, this activity is a great way to introduce the basic tenets of Islam and act as a countdown to Eid, helping to build up excitement. For each day of Ramadan, we focus on carrying out a good deed to be performed or a simple Islamic lesson, followed by a small treat.
For instance, on the first day of Ramadan, we once made a donation to charity, instilling in my son our duty to help those most in need. On another day, we chose an old toy he had outgrown, and took it to the charity shop, helping him to learn about the joy of giving. Yet another day focussed on discussing the story of Prophet Noah.
It should, however, be warned, this activity requires a fair bit of thought and forward planning, though there’s more and more ideas available online these days. I have to admit, I haven’t been hugely successful in making something cool and coherent yet, allowing the daily grind to get in the way. For the time poor, there are some ready-made Ramadan Advent Calendars for purchase online, only a quick Google search away.
2. Picture books on Eid and Ramadan
Books are my go-to tools for introducing my son to new concepts. These Islamic festivals, unfortunately, don’t have a strong foothold in the English publishing world, so I had to scour the web for books that conveyed the holy days and their ethics in language that’s easy to understand and with fun illustrations that would help spur children’s imaginations. My favourite find so far has been “It’s Ramadan, Curious George” -- a board book for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Curious George, the protagonist (and popular cartoon character), navigates fasting and feasting with his friend Kareem, and together they learn about Ramadan and Eid. The rhyming prose makes it a fun read for kids, and the morals – about kindness, patience and giving -- have been beautifully weaved in. A true gem. As an aside, “Peg + Cat: The Eid al-Adha Adventure” is a good story that portrays the morals of Eid ul-Adha, albeit it’s for slightly older children.
3. Eid present corner
In the days leading up to Eid, I set up a corner in the house solely for the purpose of displaying Eid gifts. While the concept is heavily influenced by the tradition of a Christmas tree and opening presents, I encourage it so the children can relate between the two major festivals of both faiths. Throughout the month of Ramadan, we shop, wrap and display our gifts for friends and family in the corner. After exchanging gifts, we set aside a time on the eve of Eid to open our presents together. I’ve used Islamic ornaments I had around the house and have also found a variety of beautiful Islamic décor on eBay to trim the spot. As my sons grow older, I’d love to get them more involved in decorating the present corner, getting them to wield their artsy skills to handcraft and design the décor. For now, we are sticking to making hand painted Eid cards to accompany our gifts.
4. Sharing sweets at school
Is it even Eid without sweets? I’d love for my sons to associate Eid with firni -shemai, traditional sweets, the way we all did while growing up in Dhaka. And I enjoy introducing our friends to the traditional tastes we crave so much. The challenge, however, is to pick the right type of food that will appeal to the Western palate, particularly so, to uninitiated pre-schoolers, while meeting the bevy of allergy requirements imposed by school authorities. To this end, I’ve dished up gajorer halua in colourful cupcake cases and nankhatai biscuits (no allergy inducing nuts!) – easy to eat and not sickly sweet. Watching the pudgy little hands grabbing for more and tiny voices clamouring for seconds is pure joy. But I suppose a dose of sugar will do that to any roomful of kids.
I hope my family’s Eid celebrations inspire you to create some of your own. Eid Mubarak.
Samai Haider is a writer, traveller, artist and... economist. Read about the fables of her foibles at:http://samaihaider.com/