One of my favourite things about sharing a meal with my two-year-old daughter is having her turn the tables on me and spoon food into my mouth. But lately I’ve had to come up with increasingly creative excuses to explain why Mama doesn’t want to eat her shepherd’s pie, or that piece of cheese and certainly not that half-chewed carrot. I’m fasting for the month of Ramadan, so no finishing leftover lunches, no sips from the juice box and no baby cookies between dawn and sunset for 30 days.
At the moment, my daughter doesn’t seem to notice that I’m not eating or drinking during daylight. When she persists with a handful of crackers, I say in Arabic, “Mama saima” – Mama is fasting. She’s definitely too young to understand the philosophy behind this joyous month, but her eyes grow round and she gives me a big “okay.” She especially loves our new ritual of gathering in the kitchen when the sun sets, reciting a brief blessing and biting into big, brown-sugar-sweet dates.
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Ramadan is a very special and festive time for Muslims. We come together as a community, gain empathy for those who have less, learn self-restraint, pray more, give more in charity and celebrate every night with friends, family and extra-delicious meals. Ramadan is challenging, exciting and fun. But it can be a very difficult time for the non-faster.
Nursing and pregnant women are exempt from the fast –- as are menstruating women, children until the age of puberty, travellers and the sick. Even though the exemption is viewed as a divine mercy, many women still feel left out or looked down upon for not participating in the fast. One extreme believes that not accepting the exemption is a sin – while another believes that women who don’t fast are weak. The fasts have to be made up at a later time and in a strange exaggeration of work/life balance, some non-fasting women may find they’re also deprived of attending religious functions because their free time is spent caring for children and maintaining the house while fasters take a rest.
The exemption from fasting isn’t without reason, especially now that Ramadan has entered the long, hot summer months. But for those who really want to fast, the most common religious viewpoint is that nursing and pregnant women can participate in the fast as long as they don’t fear for their health or the health of their child. Mom knows best and she can take the following steps to ensure a healthy and safe fast:
- Staying well-hydrated during non-fasting hours.
- Resting often.
- Breaking the fast, and seeing a doctor if unwell.
- Keeping an eye on wet diapers to make sure baby is drinking enough.
- And consulting with other mothers who have experience fasting.
My daughter was born during Ramadan and at first I felt terrible that I was excluded from so much of the fun and excitement. By not fasting it was like I was missing out on the strong sense of community that Ramadan helps to create. But there were sublime moments when my daughter and I would wake up to red and gold sunrises streaking the sky. While my fasting family slept, we’d listen to the call to prayer and mark another beautiful day in the sweet and wonderful month of Ramadan.
K.S. Dane writes about her life as a mom, feminist and Muslim at her blog, Wood Turtle.
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