Christmas for a Muslim child outside of an Islamic country is eclipsing. It is an over the top, in your face, commercial extravaganza that sucks in the most determined cynic with it's glittering, dripping lovliness - it apparently now begins in August and runs straight through December. Even my Jewish friends tell me their kids get Christmas envy - really, how could they not if they are not firmly grounded in their faith. I often feel sad for our Muslim kids here in the States. It's very hard to feel Ramadan like they would in Muslim countries.
My dear friend, an American who converted when she married said to me last week, "I don't know why all these people look forward to Ramadan every year. I don't get it. I know I am not supposed to say this, but frankly you are starving and thirsty all day but they all can't wait for Ramadan!!" Well, when she said this, I felt very sad and dismayed. Ramadan in Egypt is the best place in all the world.
Everyone hustles to purchase a Fanoos Ramadan (ramadan Lanterns) that are a tradition going back over 1000 years to the Fatamid dynasty. The children sing ancient songs in the streets and collect nuts and sweets from family & neighbors. The very air is saturated with the sounds of Qur'anic recitation and the hope of forgiveness and mercy. Every neighborhood hangs colorful lights and banners and there are carnival rides for the children to enjoy after the long days fast is broken and families go out and stroll together and visit. The night air is alive with the smell of Ramadan sweets and the sound of the devout filling the mosques and streets for the nightly Taraweeh prayers where they stand praying 1/30th of the Holy Qur'an every consecutive night throughout the month of Ramadan into the early morning hours. The streets are filled with tents and tables for the poor and traveling to sit and break their fast. These tables are sponsored by private individuals and businesses. Everywhere there is laughter and the awe of God's great mercy on the lips of every Muslim. The television is filled with special Ramadan programs and in Cairo, especially, there is night after night of special events, concerts, music, boat rides on the Nile for enjoyment. It is a very happy time where every Muslims eye is on his closeness to the Almighty and his charity to his fellow man. Charity is the hallmark of Ramadan, and it flows in excess during this month. The most amazing sight is a city like Cairo - that is dense and loud and pulsating with 24 hour life and people upon people - becomes silent and the streets empty and quiet with stragglers rushing home right before the cannons fire and sundown announcing sundown for the breaking of the day's fast.
Here, in America, it feels so empty for our children that I have made it a point to encourage all my firends to put great efforts into making Ramadan big, meaningful and translate the sweetness of this blessed month for their children and to establish our own traditions for our families. My 6 year old son, Zakariya, now asks when Ramadan will be here months in advance. He understands but no longer envies his Christian friends or wishes for Santa. We decorate our house, make special treats and calendar pockets are filled with small surprises to delight. My kid quietly puts money away to give to charity at every Friday prayer and wants to fast with us even a few hours every day. He's starting to get it. But the greatest triumph, is when my child says, "Mama lets go pray," and leads the prayer for the very first time in his life. I know that, here in America, where he is surrounded by so much that would pull him away or even turn him away from his faith he will be alright.
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