Creating Ramadan Traditions

I’m posting an article that a friend wrote on Ramadan and creating traditions with her family. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

by Hina Khan-Mukhtar

When I reflect on my childhood memories of celebrating the blessed month of Ramadan
while growing up in Southern California in the 1980’s, different images flash through my
mind…

Ammi playing the Holy Qur’an on the house intercom system at sahoor time. Scrambled
eggs and shaami kabaabs frying before the sun came up. Abbu sitting in the upstairs
hallway outside his bedroom, reciting from the Book of Allah before he left for office.
Coming home tired from school only to be set to work cutting up apples and oranges
and bananas for the evening fruit salad, then helping my mother fry egg rolls and grape
leaves. The night before Eid prayers the girls excitedly laying out their glass bangles
and freshly ironed clothes and trying to sleep without spoiling the drying henna on their
hands. The long distance calls from relatives overseas who shouted to be heard, wishing
us well and sending us prayers for health and happiness. We crowded around the phone,
grabbing it from one another, grinning and yelling back in order to make sure they too
heard how much we loved and missed them.

There were annual traditions that I fondly remember as well, including the potluck iftar
parties and masjid-sponsored Eid festivals. Who can forget the one auntie who always
hosted the Jumat-al-Wida (farewell Friday of Ramadan) iftar in her spacious home? The
children could always be found congregating around the cold-coffee urns set up in her
backyard, eagerly vying with one another to be the first to taste the whipped cream-filled-
dates set out on silver trays. Another auntie-and-uncle couple opened their home every
Eid-ul-Fitr for a lavish breakfast buffet which was highly anticipated the moment Eid
prayers were completed at the local fairgrounds a few minutes away.

Now that I am living in Northern California in a community made up primarily of
converts to Islam, I am rediscovering the power of having traditions which children can
look forward to and depend upon year after year. I have been fortunate in that I have been
able to benefit from the creativity in my new friends who are eager to create Ramadan
traditions that will attract and hold their children (who they fear may be lured by the
competing sparkle and brilliance of Christmas festivities they witness in their own non-
Muslim family members’ homes).

What touched me most when I sat with my girlfriends in the early days of motherhood as
we brainstormed ideas for creating memorable Ramadan traditions was the sincerity and
desire to ensure a balance between the material and the spiritual. These thoughtful women
were extremely wary of falling prey to Western commercialism where Ramadan might
inadvertently become yet another consumer month about gifts and cash and parties in the
kids’ eyes; the culture of “gimme gimme gimme” was one everyone avidly wanted to
avoid.

With that being said, I wanted to share some of the traditions we have been practicing in
our own home with our three boys for the past ten years now. I asked my sons to list some
of their favorite memories and traditions surrounding Ramadan, and these are the ones
they rattled off without a moment’s hesitation.

moon_over_san_francisco1

1.) Moon-sighting

Back in the year 2000, four families gathered at a scenic vista point in the Berkeley hills
to try and search for the new moon signifying the beginning of Ramadan. When we
arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that two other Muslim families had also
come up with the same idea and were already comfortably settled on the platform with
binoculars and thermoses of hot chocolate by their sides. We introduced ourselves and
scanned the skies together for the elusive crescent to appear over the majestic San
Francisco skyline. As the years went by and word spread over time about this great
location, more and more families have joined us. Our last moon-sighting trip had over 70
people (including a news reporter and photographer) gathered together with baked
goodies to share and cups of hot chai to pass around. The children run amongst the adults
with flashlights and sparklers in hand before being called over to join the jama’ah for
group prayer under the stars. The anticipation builds from the moment we sit in our
family van, blasting Yusuf Islam’s upbeat “Ramadan Moon” on the entire trip up through
the twisting and turning roads in the mountains. Whether we sight the moon that night or
not, there is excitement in the air and it is contagious; there’s just something about
community that gets your “battery” charged to face a month of fasting together.

2.) Ramadan Calendar

Khadija O’Connell is an extremely talented lady whom many affectionately refer to
as “the Muslim Martha Stewart”. Everything she touches seems to blossom simply by her
presence. She has brought elegance and sophistication to the most mundane of things, and
the pride she puts in her work is obvious. Whether she’s teaching a sewing class to a
group of eight-year-old boys or organizing her highly acclaimed “Creativity and the
Spiritual Path Conferences”, her attention to detail and aesthetics is of the highest caliber.
I happen to know that her personal motto in life is based on the words of Maulana
Jalaluddin Rumi,“Let the beauty you love be what you do,” and I often find myself
reflecting on the hadith, “Verily, Allah is Beautiful and He loves beauty,” whenever I
witness anything she has had a hand in. If readers want to see for themselves, they need
only visit her website www.barakahlife.com to appreciate what I’m talking about.

Nearly ten years ago, Khadija came up with an idea for her family which other people

immediately wanted to replicate in their own homes. Using rich textiles with vibrant
colors, she sewed a Ramadan Calendar, very similar to a Christmas advent calendar.
She created 30 pockets with an attractive star button stitched onto each one. Felt was
cut out into the shape of 30 crescent moons and stored in an organza drawstring pouch.
A section of velvet was left at the top of the calendar so that a family could have their
children’s names or a “Ramadan Mubarak” message embroidered there for posterity.
We hang this gorgeous calendar in our dining nook and at every iftar, after eating their
dates, the kids reach into the organza pouch and pull out a felt moon to slip onto the star
button of the day. Then they dig into the pocket and pull out their treat for the evening.
The treat can be anything from chocolates to stickers to collectible toys to race cars. We
also tuck in a paper with one of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala)’s Names on it so that by the end
of the month the kids can have learned at least a third of Allah’s Most Beautiful Names.
Some families opt to put in a simple hadith every evening. The point is to use your own
imagination and have fun while giving the kids a means to see how quickly the month is
passing by. Many of us initially tried to sew these calendars on our own, but fortunately
for everyone else who might be interested in taking on this tradition for their own young
ones, Khadija now markets these special creations to great demand on her website.

3.) Decorating the House

It doesn’t matter that Ramadan will be arriving near the end of summer this year; you
can be sure that our house will still be strung up with fairy lights (what some refer to
as “Christmas lights”), insha’Allah. I bought some darling garden lanterns during the
end-of-spring-season sales last year, so now we have those gold and maroon paper
lanterns to string up around the living room as well. The boys are more than willing to
help their father with the task of illuminating the Mukhtar home; it has become a family
project where the mother directs and the men obey…and everyone enjoys the experience
immensely.

Another friend decorates her house with “the Ramadan chain of kindness”. Everyone

in her family goes out of their way to acknowledge a simple (or significant) deed of
kindness they witness any family member performing by recording it on a strip of
construction paper. They make a point of not including the name of the do-gooder in
order to discourage pride and encourage humility for the sake of Allah (subhana wa
ta’ala). They then curl these strips into rings and connect them to one another. When
we were invited to her home for iftar one evening, we noticed this paper chain of
links winding its way around the living room; each strip had a comment written on it
like “helped change a diaper”, “took out the garbage”, “washed the salad”, “brought
mommy water”. They also placed a homemade sign in their public street-facing window
which read “So-and-So Family wishes you all a Happy Ramadan!”

4.) Baking Cookies for the Neighbors

It started out as a neighborhood outreach plan, but over the years has become something
much bigger than we ever imagined, alhamdulillah.

Soon after the tragic events of 9/11, we baked some yummy cookies at home, packaged

them in plastic boxes with a “FastBreak” candy bar (get the pun?), and delivered them
to our neighbors’ mailboxes along with a note explaining Ramadan and our ummah’s
wish for world peace and joy in 2001. It has now become a community event with
friends gathering at each other’s houses and mosques to package star and crescent shaped
cookies (sprinkled with green sugar) in gold boxes with da’awah messages typed on
sparkly vellum paper and shimmering organza ribbons to tie everything together. We
have managed to work with the same popular local bakery for the past five years now,
and the kids get a great kick out of running around the neighborhood delivering the treats.
My own sons once reflected how it was the completely opposite experience of trick-or-
treating — we’re here to give you a treat, not demand one for ourselves, and no one is out
to “scare” or “trick” anyone. It’s a celebration of lightness, not darkness!

5.) Ramadan Food Drive

Our county’s Food Bank has come to really appreciate the month of Ramadan.

They tell us their shelves are loaded during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,
but they have a difficult time keeping up with the needs of the poor during the rest
of the ten months of the year. Since Ramadan follows the Islamic lunar calendar, it
moves throughout the year and — thanks to the generosity of local Muslims — they
can now anticipate full shelves once again in the month of August, insha’Allah. Our
Islamic Center has found, however, that if you ask people to donate groceries or bring
in necessary items on their own, good intentions often are not followed through upon
with solid actions; therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves to facilitate our members’
sincerity by making it easy for them to feed the hungry.

foodbank1

Our children have a new Ramadan tradition now which requires them to gather at
the Islamic Center to bag basic pantry staples — cereal, pasta, juice, canned fruits and
vegetables — in paper sacks. It takes quite a bit of time and it is hard work, but the
children enjoy it nevertheless. These bags of groceries are then sold at Friday prayers for
$5 each. People purchase the bags in the names of their children or spouses or families
and then these sacks are placed in the Food Bank barrels which are provided by the Food
Bank with their official logo. At the end of the month, a large truck arrives from the Food
Bank and the men and children from our community help load the month’s donations.
There is often a news crew covering the event as well which makes for some positive
media in these times when Muslims so desperately need it.

An easier way to give charity during this sacred month, however, is to have your kids
decorate a glass mason jar and label it “Sadaqa Jar”. They put in their own money
throughout the month and on Eid morning they donate the contents to the local masjid. I
have my kids say their own special, private duas while they give charity so that they can
continue to be aware of their complete reliance on Allah’s Generosity…especially when
they are in a position of giving to those less fortunate. May they always have the means
and the desire to help others, insha’Allah.

6.) Waking Up On Eid Morning

At some point during the night before Eid prayers, my husband and I sneak in the helium
tank we rented from the local party supply store a day earlier. While the kids are sleeping,
we inflate as many gold and silver balloons as we can and then attach long dangling
glittery ribbons to them. We cram as many of these balloons as possible in the children’s
bedroom so that, when they wake up for Fajr prayer, they are greeted with a vision of
sparkle and magic. We also leave a trail of balloons leading out of their room down the
stairs to the pile of gifts stacked near the dining room table. I know that after so many
years the kids are on to our routine, but they humor their parents anyway by whooping it
up and grabbing the balloons the moment they awaken. Believe me when I tell you that
this is a tradition that gives as much to the parents as it does to the children.

balloonsky

Another friend has me baby-sit for one Ramadan afternoon so that she can go shopping
in secret for her children’s Eid baskets. She exerts quite a bit of effort in elaborately
decorating large wicker baskets with ribbon and paper. Then she thoughtfully chooses
items that she knows her two children will treasure — a set of new oil paints for her artistic son, an embroidery kit for her creative daughter, books by their favorite authors,
new hijabs and kufis and socks, high quality prayer beads, delicious chocolates —
everything is carefully arranged on a mound of tissue paper. The children wake up on
Eid morning and find the baskets of goodies — one pink, one blue — waiting for them at
the foot of their beds.

The kids’ reward for fasting the month of Ramadan is obviously with Allah (subhana wa
ta’ala), but we parents want to show our pride and pleasure in them as well, and these are
such easy ways to do it. The looks of pure joy and delight on the children’s faces makes
the parents’ late night effort well-worth it!

A respected scholar once told us that he knows of people who have held onto their
Islam simply because they remember experiencing wonderful, memorable Eids with
their families. There really is something magnetic in the pull that Ramadan has on
us. We love to telephone each other late at night and excitedly announce, “Ramadan
Kareem! Yes, it’s confirmed! So-and-So sighted the moon!” We enjoy discussing our
preparations for the upcoming month of fasting with one another. We desire to be part of
the community that is persevering through days of hunger and nights of worship together.
We feel connected to Muslims everywhere — whether they are students in school, co-
workers at the office, or taxi drivers who are taking us to our destinations — through
these shared daily experiences of knowing what it means to deprive the body and feed the
soul.

Children especially thrive off of the routine and rhythm we offer them. I became aware
of this one year when I thought I had misplaced our treasured Ramadan calendar. I
reassured my boys that I would look for it later but that we would just have to “make do”
for the first iftar without the calendar hanging in our dining nook as in years past; I would
still be sure to provide the iftar treat that would otherwise have been discovered in the
calendar. They put on cheerful faces and agreeable attitudes, reassuring me that all was
well, but as he was going to his room, my eldest betrayed the feelings of his brothers by
sighing, “I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t feel like Ramadan for some reason this
year.” Their sense of disappointment nagged at me, so I put off my procrastinating and,
once they were in bed, went searching and uncovered the calendar at the bottom of my
linen cabinet. When I casually called up to them, “By the way, I did find our Ramadan
calendar after all!”, I was surprised by the cheers of relief that came from their bedrooms.
I don’t think any of us realized how much this tradition meant to our family until we were
faced with the threat of losing it.

Now that the boys are getting older, our emphasis with them is more on the spiritual
benefits of Ramadan and less on the “Santa Claus is coming to Ramadan” attitude. We
encourage one another to focus on our love for our Lord and our desire to be close to
Him. This month is still — as always — about being good neighbors and good Muslims,
but we hope our behavior isn’t anything “new” in the eyes of our Creator and that we
can continue to benefit from any little that we accomplish this month throughout the rest
of the year until the next blessed Ramadan arrives…if Allah allows us to live that long,
insha’Allah.

May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) reward all parents who work so diligently at teaching their
children about their responsibilities to Allah and His Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam).
May our kids all grow up with a deep and abiding love for their deen and its duties in
their hearts. And may Allah bestow His Mercy and Generosity on us all this blessed
Ramadan and make it the best ever so far. Aameen. Readers are sincerely requested to
please keep the writer of this article in their prayers as well. JazakAllahu khayr.

COPYRIGHT HINA KHAN-MUKHTAR 2010. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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