I am asked frequently about our fasting by my non-Muslim friends about whether or not children or elderly are exempt. Of course, children are not required to fast. People who are very old or sick, pregnant women, women who are menstruating, are all exempt from fasting. Because Allah is the Most Merciful, He instructs us in the Quran that if we are unable to fast, that we should feed an indigent person for the days that we are unable to fast.
My children fast because they want to. My youngest has been fasting since he was about 5 years old. I told him that he didn’t have to but he is so competitive by nature that he told me, “Mommy, Nada (his cousin who is a year older than he is) said that I’m a baby and I can’t fast. So I am going to fast so I can show her I’m NOT a baby!” And he did it, too. He only broke his fast three times that first Ramadan. He then took to taunting Nada because she broke her fast five times that year. (Okay, so the reasons were wrong but he is now able to fast for the entire month regularly now and he’s only 11.)
All throughout Ramadan, people practice charity. There are many who will set up tents in streets filled with tables and chairs and cook huge meals and serve the poor or homeless. It is not uncommon for people to buy bags of food, usually containing several kilograms of rice, dried beans or peas, tea, oil, dried dates, raisins, ghee, and salt and give them to poor families so that they have food for breaking fast during Ramadan. A lot of the larger grocers here in Egypt offer pre-packaged bags for around 30 Egyptian Pounds each (about $5.00.)
Also, you’ll find a lot more extended family dinner get-togethers. Ramadan is a time of gathering and sharing meals. It is a time when we learn to go without; to be grateful for the fact that we have food and drink when so many do not. It also teaches us to be charitable.
At the end of Ramadan, we celebrate, at least in Egypt, by baking cookies and sharing them with family. I make a mean date-stuffed cookie that is covered in powdered sugar. But there are a lot of different types.
May you all be blessed during this Holy month of Ramadan.