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Muslim Children Participate In Ramadan Rituals: Fasting And Prayers


This is Islam's holy month of Ramadan, and across this planet, the devout are fasting from dawn until dusk. Most are adults, but many children also observe the fast. And as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, Ramadan can mean different things to different kids.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The sun is setting over Pakistan after another ruthlessly hot summer's day. A multitude of children across this land eagerly awaits this moment. In a couple of minutes, the daily fast that began some 16 hours ago will be over. The boys of this religious seminary or madrassa are ready. They're sitting on the floor on either side of a long, thin mat. Spread before them, there are plates of dates, mango, melon, chicken and pakoras - a favorite South Asian snack. About 20 boys are in this room. The youngest is 8.


REEVES: Four or five boys here aren't fasting every day, but the others are says Maulana Naeem Abbasi. Abbasi is an Islamic cleric and the madrassa's principal.

ABBASI: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: Abbasi asks a very small boy, called Nayyar, to stand up.

ABBASI: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: Nayyar is 9. He's fasting daily, and he's also learned 17 chapters of the Quran by heart, says Abbasi. Upstairs, the small girls of this madrassa are also sitting on the floor in their hijabs and tunics, waiting to tuck in. Abbasi says the 7- to 10-year-olds are fasting every other day voluntarily. For the older girls, it's daily. He says he and his teachers keep a close eye on the kids, adding that Islam allows anyone who falls sick to break the fast.

There are prayers. Then the ritual evening meal that ends the Ramadan fast, iftar, begins. The kids are given a drink made from water, sugar, milk and fruit syrup. They savor this moment, strangely, quietly.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Whispering in foreign language).

REEVES: This madrassa's in the back streets of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Many miles to the west, in Pakistan's religiously conservative city of Peshawar, another boy is fasting every day.

SAMEEN AWAN: This month is very special.

REEVES: Sameen Awan is 14 and pushing 6 feet tall. He says after 16 hours of fasting, a kid actually doesn't want to eat.

SAMEEN: We are not hungry. We are thirsty. It's all about the thirst. It's all about drinking something.

REEVES: Sameen admits he gets a little worried when Ramadan comes around but...

SAMEEN: As Ramadan - the month of Ramadan started - we get motivated by our families and we got motivated by our parents. So we don't feel that we are doing such a difficult or such a unique thing.

REEVES: Your friends are doing the same thing?


REEVES: And girls as well?

SAMEEN: Everybody, everybody.

REEVES: Kids here fast for the occasional day from the age of about 6. Their first fast is celebrated like a birthday. The family gets together. The local mullah comes around. The kid's garlanded with flowers and given gifts. Sameen fasted for the first time when he was in grade four. This year for Sameen and his family Ramadan is a very different experience. Seven months ago, the Taliban invaded his school and massacred 151 people, mostly children. Sameen was shot in the stomach. Physically, he's recovered. Emotionally - well, he's working on it.

SAMEEN: I have lost my many friends, many teachers, many fellows. So we don't feel any joy or any excitement in our games because we don't have our friends.

TAHSIN: He called me around 10:45 or 10:50.

REEVES: Sameen's dad, Tahsin, was hundreds of miles away when the attack happened.

TAHSIN: He said, Baba, there is something wrong in our school, and I have been hit a bullet. Please do something. And that was the call that change everything for me and my family.

REEVES: Tahsin's nightmare only eased when he finally reached the hospital many hours later and saw his boy.

TAHSIN: He was conscious. He hold my hand, and he said, don't worry, I'll be OK. That was enough for me.

REEVES: Tahsin says this Ramadan, the first since the massacre, has taken on a new spiritual meaning for the family.

TAHSIN: It is more emotional for us as compared to all of the Ramadans. We can't say thank you to Allah. He has blessed my son with a second life actually. So we are a bit emotional and praying and a bit excited as well.

REEVES: This is all about healing. That's not easy. This Ramadan, Sameen, who's just 14 remember, is leading the way.

SAMEEN: We have to come out of this trauma. There is no option with us - our friends, our families - they're waiting for us. They are also waiting for us that we will become normal. We can't become normal. But we have to become normal for our families.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Peshawar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.