As one of the five Islamic pillars, fasting is an important part of most Saudi and Muslim homes.
Young children pick up the religious act by parents leading by example, establishing it as a habit instead of an enforced household regime.
Muslims start fasting once they hit puberty, which does not detail a certain age, as it is different per individual. As such, there is no specific age where parents can dictate their children to start fasting.
“Growing up, it’s known that children mimic their parents and those around them; they mimic speech, actions, food habits and fasting is another thing they pick up on when they see their parents, and later on classmates and teachers fasting,” Amal Turkistani, a mother of five, told Arab News.
Children want social acceptance from an early age, they seek praise and want to impress adults around them, Turkustani added. “They want to be treated as adults. These actions say: ‘I’m not a child, I can fast just like you guys can’.”
Turkistani has four daughters and one son. She said that she did not necessarily have to teach or order them to fast, they just asked questions and announced when they were ready to start.
“From there, you gradually ease them into it. My son, who is 12, is very stubborn — when he was around 6, he said he wanted to fast and I told him he could try it out. We went on a one-hour per day period, then a few hours, then half a day, then gradually a full day as the years went by,” Turkistani said.
Muslims only have to fast during Ramadan, it is the easiest Islamic offering to children, she said, because the commitment period is very short. Turkistani noticed that pattern in all of her children. They found it easier to fast a single month than to pray five times a day year-round.
Hanadi Al-Maghrabi, a 42-year-old mother from Jeddah, tried a similar method with her 8-year-old daughter. “I don’t want to force it upon her so I leave it up to her, but when she came and asked me about fasting and how it works, I proposed she tried fasting on weekends so she wouldn’t exert herself,” she said.
Layal Hassan, a mother of twins, said a system of intermittent fasting worked for her sons.
“My boys started gradually, and what really helped was having them fast every alternate day. Starting out, parents need to be lenient and not guilt-trip their kids into it,” said Hassan, noting that a harsh approach would make children flinch away from religious practice.
Ramadan is followed by Eid Al-Fitr to celebrate the end of the fasting month, and in that respect, many children associate the festivities as a rewarding system for persevering through the month.
“Every Eid, children get money allowance (known as Eidiya) for the completion of Ramadan from members of the family, sometimes even extended family. To them, it’s a reward for fasting,” said Turkistani.
Children can easily be motivated throughout the day as well, with smaller reward systems during the holy month. Al-Maghrabi would leave some candy for her daughter after every iftar.