With Ramadan on the way many parents and Muslim educators are searching for ways to include children in the fasting tradition. Some parents select numbered calendars and place a treat for each day. Some parents reward their children for completing one day of fasting as a new and exciting accomplishment. Some parents prepare elaborate goodie bags to keep the children occupied at taraweh prayer. All are lovely ways to include children but these ideas do not address the purpose and meaning of the fasting tradition for Muslims which can be described as a struggle against the nafs or ego in order to develop our spirituality as Muslims. Some may be familiar with the fasting of Ramadan. They may be aware that those who practice this fast are hungry and thirsty and grumpy but they may not know why they choose to engage in this challenging practice.
In order to address the meaning and practice of fasting I have designed a curriculum for children based on The Conference of the Birds written in the 12thcentury by Farid ud-Din Attar. It can be used as a teaching tool for the Holy Month of Ramadan. When Allah (s) created the Will, it was found to defiant and disobedient. After many failed trials, at last, the Will was placed in the Valley of Hunger and after 1,000 years of exile the Will recognized the Creator of All Things. The will gives many excuses for its disobedience but there are times when the will can choose the right path and harness the energy of courage to represent the struggle of the ego.
The curriculum is called The Pool of Paradise: A 30 Day Curriculum and this text is written to accompany a project for Ramadan where the student adds a bird to the Pool of Paradise each day. Each bird is assigned a distinguishing character or aspect of the will. Each bird is also assigned a phase of the moon in its progression. At the end of this project the student will have a greater appreciation of the purpose of fasting and the Will that can be tamed and guided to a goal greater than its own satisfaction.
When the birds reach the Pool of Paradise on Mount Qaf they look into the silver pool at their mirror image. They have lost themselves along the way and are annihilated in their cause to reach the Simourgh. In the pool they see their True King and not themselves as their reflection. With this image we wish to describe the concept of fannah or annihilation.
The language of the episodes is at times above the comprehension level of younger children so this calendar project can illustrate the lesson. Students can add to the calendar without listening to the story if they are too young to follow. The overall goal is for the student to have a sense that each bird is facing a challenge just as we are challenged by the fast each day of Ramadan. Wherever possible in the narrative the stories of the Prophets are used as examples because these stories are already familiar to most Muslim children.
Parents have participated in this project for the past several years and I hope that this is the first of many ideas for sharing the meaning of Ramadan with children in a creative and exciting new format. In the future I also plan to write a play about this story that children can participate in by playing the particular birds and dramatizing their struggle. As these projects are repeated more ideas and applications have occurred to parents and educators and I very much welcome their feedback. Ramadan Mubarak to you and your family.
Please share your ideas for teaching children the rites of Ramadan.
Please see out new book for this project: The Pool of Paradise: A 30 Day Curriculum.
Lore of Light by Hajjah Amina Adil