As–salaamu alaykom. May the Peace be upon you during this Holy Month of Ramadan “a time of fasting a prayer for more than 1.3 billion followers of Islam. I here confess to having known very little about Islam, growing up in Idaho and being raised in the Christian tradition. I did learn that the Quran and the first 5 books of the Old Testament were the same, that the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau were influential in these different religious traditions, and that the Crusades of the Middle Ages were about nations with one set of religious beliefs trying to save the other. Or, maybe it was all about trying to preserve one set of cultural and religious traditions being threatened by the other. I don’t think I was alone in my lack of understanding. And today I still think there is still a lot of ignorance and mistrust about such matters. It’s not about a place being modern or about the people found there being educated.
The call to engage in a month of prayer and fasting
Beginning on 27 October, in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a prominent feature of everyday life in many places, such as here in the United Arab Emirates. For the next 4 weeks, all adult Muslims must fast from dawn to sunset every day by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking, conjugal relations and unclean thoughts. For 29-30 days, Muslims fast as a one of their fundamental acts of worship and as a sign of obedience to God. It is said that while earning blessings from God, they are also rewarded socially, economically, spiritually, culturally, psychologically and physically. The whole population of the country “like in other Islamic countries “are affected. The school and work days are reduced, and shops, banks and industry operate with shorter opening hours. The fast is broken each day at sunset by the consumption of water and dates. Magreb prayers and an important meal known as Iftar follow this minor “break fast”. Then, Muslims call on (and/or receive) family and friends in their homes as a time of spiritual reaffirmation and celebration.
UAE boy reading the Quran
So what might all this mean for child and youth care work? For a start, it poses questions about the extent to which spiritual matters are ever acknowledged or even considered openly by child and youth care workers. In secular societies “those where there is a clear separation between religious and state matters “it is almost easier to teach “nothing” than to teach “anything”. In places where individuals have the right to engage or not to engage in religious teachings or practices, there is often very little systematic moral and ethical training. It’s not the same as therapy. Where young people are given individual “rights” of choice to believe whatever they like, one may learn very little about social and community obligations. I wonder how many child and youth care workers actively encourage “their” kids to learn about cultural practices and the meanings of celebration in the different religious traditions? Last week, the peoples of India celebrated Depa Vali, the Festival of Light, as part of their Hindu practices. For the next few weeks, it will be the Holy Month of Ramadan, the fourth of the five so-called Pillars of Islam. Then the Jewish peoples celebrate their Feast of Hanukkah and dedication, just before Christians celebrate the birth of their Messiah.
When did you last switch the TV off and talk about such things with the young people in your care? Does it matter? Why not?