Ramadan: A Muslim Holy Day
Ramadan, the Holy Month for Muslims, is celebrated around the world. This year Ramadan begins on August 11 and goes until September 9th. It is a period of prayers, fasting, and charity. There is also a strong emphasis on family.
A major part of Ramadan, fasting from sunrise to sundown, can be difficult for children to do or understand. Generally, Muslim children begin to fast for short periods as early as four or five, then fast for the full time around the age of twelve.
More than ever children of all ages are being exposed to world cultures and religions. The selection of books featured below are a fun way to encourage learning, awareness and tolerance, whether they are board books or young adult novels.
Look at the following sites for more information and creative ideas about Ramadan.
Contributor: Emily Griffin
Nabeel's New Pants: An Eid Tale
Retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
Illustrations by Proiti Roy
On the day before the celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid when Ramadan has ended, Nebeel the shoemaker has been busy selling new shoes for the holiday. Now he finally has time to buy special clothes for his family. He needs new pants as well, but all he can find is a pair that is too long. The family is pleased with what he has bought, but no one has time to shorten his pants. So he does it himself, then goes out to visit the sick and poor. Meanwhile his wife, his mother, and his daughter all feel ashamed. He is so good that they should shorten his pants for him. Each in turn does, without telling the others. Of course when he puts them on next day, they only reach his knees. After laughing, they all work together to sew the pieces back so they can go to the mosque together. Black India ink drawings and intensely colored gouache paints provide crisp, stylized images of local places and clothing. The illustrations, chiefly single pages and vignettes, are a light-hearted but not comic accompaniment to the folk tale. A glossary is included. 2010, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, Ages 4 to 8, $15.99. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle
Illustrations by Anne Sibley O'Brien
Moon Watchers is a welcome addition to holiday picture book collections in its portrayal of a Muslim holiday in an American context. Told from the point of view of a young Iranian-American girl named Shirin, the family includes a traditionally veiled grandmother and Shirin's mother who covers herself only while praying. Traditions from the "old country" are maintained: special foods are prepared while father and daughter watch the stars to search for the new moon, which signals the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Shirin's older brother, however, is absorbed in video games and Shirin prays for things familiar to girls everywhere: straighter hair and better grades. The soft watercolor illustrations show a sensitive and meaningful mix of American and Iranian details: the American house, the Iranian tea set, the American bookbag, and Iranian prayer rugs. Shirin takes some teasing from her brother Ali when she is told she is too young to fast during Ramadan, yet when she sees "Ali stuffing something in his mouth, I almost yell that he is cheating, but I stop. He might have forgotten he is fasting." She catches him again but still keeps his secret, dramatically reducing sibling tensions. This is the Ramadan miracle; it is just unfortunate that keeping secrets is presented in such a positive light. The book concludes with a short note explaining the importance and meaning of Ramadan. 2010, Tilbury House, Ages 5 to 8, $16.95. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children's Literature).
Laura S. Jeffrey
The photographs are excellent and the format is appealing, but the information in this book is incomplete, even though it has been reviewed by the Council on Islamic Education and includes extensive footnotes. The passage on the history of Islam mentions Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, but the map shows neither city. There is a good discussion of the response of moderate Muslims to terrorism, but no explanation of the widely-used term “jihad.” In a sidebar about Abraham and the Ka’bah shrine in Mecca, it is noted that “God commanded that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac.” However, this is not quite right. While Muslims, Christians and Jews all tell the same story about Abraham’s sacrifice, but Muslims believe the incident involved Abraham’s first son Ishmael (son of Hagar), not Isaac (son of Sarah). Christians and Jews trace their ancestry to Isaac and Muslims to Ishmael, but because of this story, all three are Abrahamic faiths. The photographs show a great variety of people celebrating the Muslim holiday, from a girl in Bangladesh decorating her hands with henna to typical-looking American Muslim teenagers and an American soldier in Iraq holding a Kurdish baby during the feast that follows Ramadan. The book includes an index, brief glossary and extensive chapter notes. Other books in the series cover the holidays of Christmas, Tet, Diwali, Cinco de Mayo, and Kwanzaa. 2007, Enslow, $31.93. Ages 10 to 15. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
My First Ramadan
Muslims all over the world celebrate this sacred holiday. It lasts for a month during which Muslims pray and fast, and this fasting also includes not drinking anything all day long. When the month finally draws to an end, it is celebrated with a three-day festival called Eid-al-Fitr. Katz has created a truly child-friendly description of the holiday featuring a family with a son and daughter. In this depiction, the mother does indeed wear a head covering and the father a cap. They are shown arising before dawn to eat a big breakfast to give them strength to get through the day. The first of five prayers starts the day for the followers of Islam. Other traditions include washing hands and eating a sweet date before the evening meal (iftar), which dates back to the lessons of Muhammad and what he taught his followers. The mosque is shown with Muslims arriving for prayers, but there is no mention of men separated from women while praying. It all ends with a party and feasting. 2007, Henry Holt, $14.95. Ages 3 to 5. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).
The Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Yasmeen, a Pakistani American girl, looks forward to the celebration of Ramadan. “It is a time filled with delicious foods, new clothes, lots of parties, and her favorite thing ever--presents!” Her mother points out the sliver of moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan, which is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar based on the moon. In a discussion at school, Yasmeen explains about fasting: not eating food from sunrise to sun down during Ramadan. She may try it for one day next year. After sunset she eats dates and drinks milk with her family before the meal. They attend a party, take food to the Mosque to share with others and host a cookout. Grandma visits. When the next new moon appears, it is the “Night of the Moon” and Ramadan is over. There is a big celebration and and opportunity to buy new clothes, jewelry and snacks. Yasmeen has her hands painted with henna paste, which will wear off in a week. The next day is Eid (pronounced eed). Yasmeen has a new dress and visits relatives who give her little gifts of money. At home Yasmeen receives a very special gift: a telescope through which she can look at the moon. A note with further information and a glossary with pronunciation guide is included. The stylized colorful illustrations are bordered with teal and royal blue decorations based on Islamic tiles. Libraries will want to have a copy to inform children of one way this important Islamic holiday is celebrated. 2008, Chronicle Books, $16.99. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman (Children’s Literature).
A Party in Ramadan
Leena’s excitement over her invitation to her friend Julia’s party is dampened when her mother reminds her that Ramadan begins that day. Leena wants to try to fast for that special day and go to iftar dinner that night to break her fast, but says she will not eat or drink at the party. When there, Leena is thrilled to ride a pony and have fun with her friends. But she begins to feel very hungry and thirsty, and falls asleep while the others enjoy refreshments. Back home, she is pleased to have made it through the long day. Together the family says their prayers and breaks their fast. Remembering how she felt earlier, Leena shares her special pudding with her younger sister. She has learned a lot from her day, and readers will come to understand their fasting friends better after reading her story. There is emotional warmth to Jacobsen’s colored pastel and pencil scenes. The middle-class setting is clear, from the street and houses on the front end pages in daylight to the same site at night under the new moon at the end. The characters are naturalistically and affectionately portrayed, as is the sense of this important holiday. Notes add information about the holy month of Ramadan, and about the hijab or headscarf worn by Muslim girls and women. 2009, Boyds Mills Press, $16.95. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).
This colorful, large format book appears to cover the basics of this important Muslim holiday: fasting, praying, the mosque, the Qur’an, charity, Eid al Fitr, sahoor and iftar (meals to begin and end the day of fasting). But the information is incomplete and inaccurate. “The God of Islam is named Allah.” Allah is simply the Arabic word for God, not the name of a different God worshipped by Muslims. The reason for fasting is not simply to clean or purify oneself; fasting also teaches discipline and empathy with people who have no choice about being hungry. The captions often do not match the photographs; the location of the photographs is not provided and there appear to be no photographs of Muslims in Western countries. The potentially interesting “Did you know?” facts sprinkled through the book are often gratuitous: “Many Muslims are kind to strangers and give to the poor and less fortunate.” The “Celebrations” series also includes titles about Chinese New Year, Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead, Diwali and others. Thankfully, there are many other excellent choices available for schools and libraries seeking to provide students with accurate information on diverse holidays. 2009, Crabtree Publishing Company, $8.95. Ages 6 to 10. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
This book provides a straightforward description of the Islamic celebration of Ramadan. Balanced pictures from both the United States and the Middle East show Muslims in various acts of celebrating Ramadan. Key words appear in bold and also in a glossary and index at the back of the book. Well-captioned color photos help illustrate the text's descriptions of new concepts and bring a personal face to the traditions. Additional reading is provided at the back along with two Web sites. Unfortunately, the first of the two appears to no longer be on the Web, and the second is from the rather generic About.com site. Part of the "Holiday Celebrations" series, this simple book provides the facts young children wonder about without getting into complex theology. However, even the shortest nonfiction book for young children can benefit from an expert consultant, which this book apparently did not have. It is not the case that "Ramadan usually takes place in the fall or winter." Islam follows a lunar calendar in which each month is slightly shorter than the months on a western calendar, so Ramadan gradually rotates through the entire year. Even young readers could discuss the interesting differences brought by a major holiday that is celebrated sometimes in the winter and sometimes in the summer, especially when the exact starting date of the holiday isn't even known until the moment the new moon is sighted. 2003, Rourke Publishing, $19.27. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewers: Sarah Seage and Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
Ramadan: Islamic Holy Month
This is an accurate, simply written, and well-photographed discussion of the basic practices and beliefs around Ramadan. As more and more Muslim children come to class talking about this holiday observance at home, it will be helpful to have this type of book in school and classroom libraries. The photos include families in traditional and American-style clothing and surroundings, pre-teen children politely refusing snacks during the day while they are fasting, and large meals of ethnic food to break the fast in the evening. There are photos of a mosque in a Muslim country where hundreds of men are kneeling in prayer, as well as holiday carnival rides in Muslim communities where the Eid al-Fitr feast at the end of Ramadan is a major social event. One page features American Muslim Hakeem Olajuwon, an NBA superstar who played even while he was fasting. One important activity for Muslims during Ramadan is helping people who are poor. There are directions for decorating a collection jar to save or gather money--a craft that transcends any specific religious connection. This book also offers an introduction to a small glossary, resource list, and simple index. The Council on Islamic Education was a consultant for the book that is one of “Capstone’s First Facts--Holidays and Culture series.” The series also features Chinese New Year, Day of the Dead, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 2006, Capstone Press, $15.93. Ages 6 to 10. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
Ramadan and Id al-Fitr
Dianne M. MacMillan
Holidays are always of interest to students and teachers, and another book describing Kwanzaa is welcome in schools and libraries. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday compared to other winter holidays like Christmas and Hanukah, so it is a little more intriguing to children. There are seven days to Kwanzaa, each with its own special purpose and remembrance, but family is remembered on every day. The principles of Kwanzaa are also described, as well as the relevant symbols like the unity cup, corn, and straw mat. Overall this book has very simple sentence structure and does a wonderful job of defining vocabulary. Pronunciation guides are built right into the text and, while many words will be difficult for children to read, teachers will be able to help classes master these new terms. The book does get a little long, considering the simplicity of the text; however this is a rather complex subject. All the websites were in working order at the time of review, however they are not specifically aimed at children and may be a little difficult to understand and navigate. Overall this is a worthwhile book that will educate students about an interesting cultural holiday. 2008, Enslow Publishers, $23.93. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Tiffany Torbeck (Children’s Literature).
Under the Ramadan Moon
Illustrated by Sue Williams
The celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan by a family is told in a single sentence per two page spread. The soft colored pictures show the family in various actions and settings that add to the text. A new moon begins and ends the holiday. Through Ramadan, the family fasts during the day. The father reads to his son on the steps outside their house. The mother holds her daughter on a swing from a tree. At night they eat. They “speak kind words and stop bad habits under the moon.” They give to the poor and read the Qur’an. Friends and food are part of it. Many pray at the mosque. A page with further explanation of the holiday appears at the back of the book. “In the United States, Ramadan recipes and customs reflect the many different cultures Muslim Americans come from.” Muslim parents will enjoy reading the simple text and talking about the pictures with their young children. Other parents and children may come to understand the customs of neighbors and friends. 2008, Albert Whitman & Company, $15.99, Ages 3 to 5. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman (Children’s Literature).
The White Nights of Ramadan
Illustrated by Ned Gannon
It has long been possible to find books describing Christmas traditions in different countries. Now young readers have the same opportunity to learn about Ramadan traditions that vary by country. Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, who are now the fastest growing religious group in the United States. In addition to fasting and praying, there are special regional customs during the month. Maha Addasi is a Kuwaiti now living in the United States. Her story revolves around the children of a family in Kuwait (although that is not explicitly stated except in the author’s notes at the back of the book).Noor and her younger brothers are preparing with great excitement for Girgian, three nights when the moon is full and children walk from door to door collecting sweets. The root word garga’a actually means the sound of hard candy rattling in a bag. Not only is the moon full and white, but young boys wear the traditional long white gown called a dishdasha. Readers share in the children’s excitement waiting for the sun to go down on the first day of Girgian and preparing special candies made of sugar and pistachios. After collecting their own sweets, children also take a basket of food to the local mosque, where it will be distributed to poor people. Ned Gannon’s illustrations are warmly painted, but the town and landscape scenes are more appealing; the people often seem wooden and clumsy, like partially sculpted clay. The back pages include good explanatory notes as well as a short glossary. 2008, Boyds Mills Press, $16.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
The American Muslim Teenagers' Handbook
Dilara Hafiz, Imran Hafiz, and Yasmine Hafiz.
This book was originally self-published by a Muslim family living in Arizona who noticed the availability of books for Christian teenagers and wanted to develop something similar for Islam. They sent surveys to students at several Islamic schools in the United States and used the responses to help develop the content for this book. The wide scope of its audience makes this book uniquely American; it includes something for people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, immigrants, children of immigrants, converts to Islam, and non-Muslims who want to learn about the religion. In addition to providing a history of Islam and a description of its doctrines and practices, the book delves into questions about food, fashion, and dating that are pertinent to American teens. Several chapters conclude with an entertaining quiz to test the reader's knowledge, and comments from the respondents to the surveys as well as fast facts about Islam are interspersed with the text. The tone of the book is light without being disrespectful toward the seriousness of its subject, and through humor, the authors are able to take on some tough subjects that American Muslim teenagers face, particularly discrimination. The book is savvy enough that teens will browse it on their own, but it will also serve as a great educational tool. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2009, Atheneum/S & S, 192p.; Glossary. Photos. Charts. Biblio. Further Reading., $11.99 Trade pb. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer: Jenny Ingram (VOYA, June 2009 (Vol. 32, No. 2))
Does My Head Look Big in This?
Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim, a vivacious and witty teenager, has recently moved with her parents to Melbourne, Australia. The sixteen-year-old Australian-Muslim-Palestinian embraces her heritage and background, while her parents, Mohamed and Jamila, have a deep relationship with their daughter, always keeping Amal grounded with what is important in life. The Abdel-Hakim family resides in the suburbs of Melbourne, where Amal is adjusting to the move while she makes new and exciting friends. When her family moved, she had to leave all of her dear friends behind to attend McCleans Preparatory School full-time. Her friends are in for a big surprise when she shows up at school after their winter break wearing a hijab, a head scarf that symbolizes her religion and faith. Amal makes the life-changing decision to wear a hijab after watching an episode of Friends in which the character Rachel decides to wear a dreadful bridesmaid dress to her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. The episode makes Amal passionate about wearing the scarf. Her parents, along with her principal, feel that wearing the scarf will only cause problems for Amal, but she decides that she is proud of her heritage and wants to embrace her culture, despite the consequences. In the beginning, she worries about the stereotypes she will face. Yazmeen, Amal’s best friend, helps her deal with the pressure of wearing her hijab. As all of these events take place, she begins to see the world in a new light, realizing why wearing the hijab was so important in the beginning. One thing readers will gain from this book is knowledge of self-love and an appreciation of their culture. The author did a great job of presenting a story of a culture that is constantly maligned for their daily customs--especially in contemporary American media. This engaging text is presented in an intimate format similar to a diary, making Amal’s story shine through the text and giving readers a sense of her every emotion. A must-read! 2007, Orchard Books, $16.99. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Lacrisa Darby (Children’s Literature).
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix
The story opens with a dark painting of Nazi soldiers marching by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 1940. The opposite page shows a phrase that is both an Islamic hadith, or saying, and a Jewish proverb: “Save one life, and it is as if you’ve saved all of humanity.” This is the little known story of Muslims in France who hid Jews in the Grand Mosque, “an oasis hidden behind high walls right in the middle of the city.” The Mosque was a community center for people who came to France from North African colonies like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Si Kaddour Benghabrit was the sophisticated and cultured Algerian-born diplomat who ran the mosque. He helped one young Berber Jew from Algeria hide out at the mosque during the Nazi occupation. He hid the children of other North African Jews among his own children. A Muslim doctor from Tunisia helped Jewish children obtain false identity papers so they could pass as Christian or Muslim. The Nazis were reluctant to target Muslims as they feared a Muslim uprising in North Africa where they were already fighting Allied forces. Grand Mosque of Paris provides a little known chapter in the story of the Jews in Europe during World War II--historical examples of people now perceived as sworn enemies helping each other stay alive. The illustrations are painted in soft, somber colors, often evoking the fear and loneliness of the time. The authors describe their research in an Afterword and provide a short glossary. Although this story is presented as a picture book, the text and illustrations lend themselves to older readers as well who may be more familiar with the history of the second World War. 2009, Holiday House, Ages 6 to 12, $17.95. Reviewer: Karen Leggett
Religion is a belief in a supernatural power. Katy Gerner writes about six world religions in an effort to help people learn and understand each other’s differences. Muslims follow the religion of Islam, which means peace through willing submission to Allah. They believe in one god whose name is Allah. Their holy scripture is the Koran. Islam rules affect their worship, their family life, food, clothing and bathing practices. Muslim’s submission to Allah is symbolized by touching their foreheads to the ground. 84% to 90 % of Muslims are Sunnis, and the rest are Shiites. Their most important prophet is Mohammad. They pray five times a day and go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes. They observe many festivals and celebrations such as Ramadan during which they fast. After Ramadan is over they have the feast of Id al-fitr. The index is helpful to quickly locate information. A glossary is included with bold words in text identified. 2009, Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, Ages 8 to 14. Reviewer: JoAn Watson Martin (Children’s Literature).
Islam: The Basics
This eight-book series is a solid, interesting and informative look at Islam. Individual chapters can be read as the basis for classroom discussions. Good bibliographies, chronology, indices and additional resources make the series excellent for student research as well. The pages are heavy with text but the illustrations are generally high quality. While the authors are often writers or journalists, the editors of the series are Muslims and respected scholars in the fields of Islamic law and studies. The Basics offers excellent background on the beliefs, laws and practices, celebrations and holidays of Islam. Young readers will learn that even though Muhammad had more than one wife, he is credited with ending many oppressive practices against women and decrying the increasing materialism of his time. We learn that governments based on Islam are as much a tradition in the Islamic world as governments based on the separation of church and state in America. The first Islamic government was established in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 622. There is excellent background information on the different sects of Islam (Sunni, Shi'ite, Wahhabi) and the corresponding role of ayatollahs, sheiks and imams. The final chapter touches on issues in contemporary Islam, including the rise of fundamentalism or Islamism, women and the veil (the Qur'an simply calls for modesty with no specific call for hijab, chador or burqa), and tensions with the West. Part of the "Introducing Islam" series. 2004, Mason Crest, $22.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
Islam: Worship, Festivals, and Ceremonies from Around the World
The frequent photographs, format and organization make this book look like a series for younger children but the text is thorough and includes details that are probably best understood by older readers. There are frequent quotations from the Koran as well as notes on national differences in practice. In India and Pakistan, for example, students studying the Koran sit around the edge of a classroom rather than in rows because it is considered disrespectful to have one’s back to the holy book. On several occasions, the author describes Islam as a social, political and spiritual system, not just a religion. There are chapters about the development of Islam, the life of Mohammed, the Koran and the mosque, Islamic art, worship and festivals, Islamic politics and the “way of the Sufi” (the mystical approach to understanding God that is practiced by both Sunni and Shiite Muslims). The glossary and index are short but complete and easy to use. The photographs and illustrations are vivid and often compelling, but it would be interesting to know the locations of more of the pictures, especially the engaging preschooler learning to pray on the cover. Originally published as The Kingfisher Book of Religions, the new series includes titles about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other Eastern faiths. 2005, Kingfisher, $6.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
My Name Was Hussein
Illustrated by Allan Eitzen.
Hussein lives in Bulgaria in a Roma community. The Roma people came to Bulgaria from India and have long suffered discrimination. Young Hussein talks of celebrating Muslim holidays with his family, when his mother and grandmother make special foods and his father gives the children new clothes. Then suddenly soldiers close the village and no one is allowed to leave. Hussein's parents are ordered to take new Christian names. They follow orders, but Hussein wants everyone to know that "my name was Hussein." The author's note explains that he was a Roma forced to change his name under the communist government of Bulgaria in the 1980s. The story is a reminder that discrimination takes many forms in many countries and it is not just a problem of the past. Allan Eitzen uses color dramatically in his simple line drawings to convey the joy of a holiday gathering and the stark horror of the soldiers' visit. Hussein's huge dark eyes are alternately soft and smiling, haunted and scared. It is a touching story told very simply so that even young children can understand and talk about what happens when people do not tolerate difference. 2004, Boyds Mills, $15.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children’s Literature).
Under the Persimmon Tree
Suzanne Fisher Staples
The Arab world is somewhat of a mystery to many Americans. All we see on the news is the violence of terrorist rather than the suffering of the average person, especially women. The stories of two very different women living in the time of the Taliban are told in this novel. Najmah is an Afghan girl who struggles to reach Pakistan after her mother and baby brother are killed by American bombs and her father and brother are conscripted into the Taliban army. Nusrat is an American who followed her husband to Pakistan and patiently waits for his return from the Afghan hospital where he is working. This is not a happy story, but it is not a happy time in Afghanistan. Rather than being melodramatic, though, the story is starkly real. Young women will relate to Najmah and her loss of family, while adults will relate to Nusrat’s search for meaning in her life. The novel can also aid social studies teachers trying to make the Middle East real to students. The stories are very serious and graphic in some parts. While there is nothing that is too shocking for middle- and high-school students, teachers may want to read it prior to handing it out. Parents may enjoy reading the novel with their children. Young adults, especially young women, should read this book regardless of how it is presented to them. 2005, Farrar Straus and Giroux, $17.00. Ages 12 to 16. Reviewer: Heather Robertson Mason (Children’s Literature).
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