The sun sets and the streets are soon dark. Then a thousand lights light up. Children, women, and men can be seen feasting on savouries and sweets. The atmosphere is electric and happy. A day of fasting, where water has not passed the lips after sunrise has ended. Year after year, Muslim friends and acquaintances observe their fast with rigour and piety. What is Ramadan? Why do people of the Islamic faith follow it so religiously?Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford, I quote says,

"Ramadan is, in it's essence, a month of humanist spirituality."

He further adds:

"Our pluralist society must provide it's citizens with the tools to understand religons, their symbols and practices."

Looking from the outside in, I found my knowledge of Ramadan woefully low. How would I explain this to my children, as they spent a day at home for Ramadan? Luckily, help is always at hand.Suhaib Hamid Ghazi's Ramadaan is a good place to start. Ethereal illustrations by Omar Rayyan accompany the simple but insightful writing by Ghazi.We follow Hakeem as he celebrates Ramadaan.Islam is an Arabic word meaning peace and submission.

Hakeem reads the Quran

The followers of Islam can be found from anywhere in the world-Russia, to Japan, to Indonesia, India, Pakistan, England, France, Turkey, United States, Libya - anywhere. They follow the Lunar calendar, with the moon's cycle of waxing and waning providing the days of the calendar. It is the 9th month of the Lunar calendar that Ramadaan is celebrated. This month is considered the holy month when Allah (the almighty of the Islamic faith) started to reveal the Quran.

The first sliver of the moon after the waning of the eighth month is considered the beginning of the month of Ramadaan. Hakeem wishes his family members a very happy 'Ramadaan' to get the holy month going.

The whole month passes in fasting. Families rise early before sunrise to eat a heavy meal that must sustain them through the day. Nothing is eaten through the day. This pre-sunrise meal is called Suhur. Hakeem feasts on oatmeal, blueberry, pancakes and scrambled egg. Elsewhere, children may stock up on dates, dry fruits, parathas (stuffed flat bread), fruits; A ritual cleansing and performance of the morning prayer or Fajr, follows. This is the first of five prayers through the day.

Fasting through the day is not easy for Hakeem, but he persists because of what it means. Ramadan is a month of prayer and purification. The mind and body get a chance to cleanse itself, introspect and turn attention to those less fortunate than themselves. It is also a time of renewed beginnings, where the mistakes and enmities of the past must be ended  and a fresh beginning initiated.The very old, the sick, the very young, the unborn and therefore expecting mothers are not expected to fast for Ramadan.

At the end of each day, when the fast is broken it is done with a prayer of thanks to Allah for having the strength to maintain the fast. After breaking the fast with some dates, the evening prayer or Maghrib is undertaken. Once the sun sets, Hakeem's family enjoys a scrumptious meal.The family heads for the mosque for night prayers also called Taraweeh.

Families visit each other for Iftar; often non-Muslims are also invited.At the end of the ninth month, when the new moon is sighted Eid-ul-fitr is celebrated.Hakeem celebrates the end of Ramadan by going to a park where Muslims of different countries congregate. Hakeem is delighted to see so many different kinds of people who look so different and dress differently coming together as one. He also cherishes the month spent with his family fasting, praying and feasting.

Celebrating Ramadan by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith is another excellent book to understand Ramadan's significance. The book has photographs by Lawrence Migdale. It follows the story of Ibraheem who lives in Princeton, New Jersey.The book details the tenets of Islam, the names of the five prayers and how prayers are done in the mosque. The book has the beautiful story of how God revealed the teachings of the Quran to Mohammed through his angel Jibril. He was told he was to become a Rasul or messenger of god. Muhammed's city was called Madinat-un-nabi, meaning the City of the prophet.

Ibraheem and his family

The nine months of the lunar calendar are provided to readers. We learn that in Arabic there are fifty names for the Quran and ninety-nine names for Allah. The book also has the actual call to prayer that Muslims follow. Photographs of Ibraheem doing his prayers on his prayer mat in a sequence can also be seen. Beautiful photographs of Ibraheem helping his grandmother and mother prepare for the Iftar are delightful. Hoyt-Goldsmith provides details to the rituals followed during Ramadan and Migdale's photos bring alive a family and community that celebrates it.

Smaller children will love the new Curious George Celebrates Ramadan book. George the curious monkey learns the traditions of Ramadan from his friend Kareem. George being George mixes up things a bit when he diverts shoes left outside the mosque to charity! This Hena Khan book will be loved by little children. (0-4 age group).

Under the Ramadan Moon, by Sylvia Whitman is a lyrical tribute to Ramadan. The School Library Journal in its book review says:

This delightful picture book describes the month long observance of Ramadan by a modern family...The repitive line "under the moon" also makes an excellent resource for teachers and librarians for choral reading and discussion.

Lailah's Lunchbox is a delightful book that captures the quandry of Lailah who finds her self in a new country where everyone does not know about Ramadan. Lailah has recently moved from Abu Dabi to America. It is the month of Ramadan and Lailah's mother sends a note to her teacher about her fast. Lailah worries nevertheless. What will her new peers and teachers think, she wonders? The librarian and her teacher provide Lailah  with the tools to explain her religious tradition of the month of Ramadan to her friends. Lailah is touched by their acceptance and understanding. Lailah's Lunchbox, by Reem Faruqi won the American Library Association Notable Book for Children 2016 title.

Lailah in the library

The Best EId Ever is a book by Asma Mobin-Uddin celebrates the spirit of sharing and giving in the holy month of Ramadan. Aneesa is sad that she is away from her parents on Eid. Her grandmother presents her with new clothes and bangles. They depart to the mosque for prayers where Aneesa meets Zayneb and Mariam, two children who are not wearing new clothes. Aneesa learns they are refugees and that their father is hard at work to try and meet their basic needs. Sweet Aneesa decides she must help and in the giving spirit of Eid and make it the best Eid ever for her new friends.

Zayneb and Mariam break the fast with their father

Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle is the story of 9 year-old-Shirin who fasts for half a day during Ramadan. Unfortunately, she catches her elder brother snacking. Should she tell her parents? Her grandmother guides her to take the right decision and the squabbling siblings see the month of Ramadan bring a miracle into their life.

I hope you enjoy reading these books to your children. These great books will  help them understand the spirit of compassion and sharing embodied in Ramadan. Eid Mubarak.