When a friend of Farah Kinani's daughter, Leila, told her classmates that she would not be joining them during lunch one day, no one understood that Leila would not be eating with them because it was the beginning of Ramadan; the Muslim Holy month of fasting between sunrise and sunset, also known as one of the pillars of Islam. Leila's classmates, instead, implored her to hide and eat, or to at least drink. Some even thought she was being punished or given a time out.
Leila's mother, concerned about the confusing and stressful situation her daughter had fallen into – due to the lack of understanding among her peers – decided to prepare and deliver a small talk at the school on the subject of Ramadan.
During her presentation to the 4th graders at the middle school her daughter attended, Ms. Kinani answered basic questions about Islam, shared anecdotes about Ramadan's first-time fasters, and made a brief comparison between fasting traditions within various other religions.
The feedback Ms. Kinani received was both encouraging and inspiring.
Some students expressed that it seemed fasting might actually be fun, while others said people who fast are brave. But the observation Ms. Kinani enjoyed hearing the most was that it seemed Muslims were just normal people.
Ms. Kinani's book, published by Creative Education and Publishing, tries to answer questions such as, what is Ramadan, why is it sacred, and who should fast?
"When our children, Muslims and non-Muslims, understand that the goals of any Muslim family are not that different from the aspirations of their own families, and when they associate Muslims with different faces – other than those more frightening images often broadcast throughout mainstream media – a milestone towards a respectful cohabitation between Americans of different backgrounds can be achieved," stated Ms. Kinani.
Ramadan, the holy month of fasting observed by Muslims, lasts for 30-days. Fasting believers strive to abstain from food, drink, marital relations and other negative behaviors throughout the month as a way of attaining purification and forgiveness of sins.
The Holy Quran, God’s revelation to mankind and the honored book of Islamic scriptures, states (as translated from Arabic to English) in Surah 2 Ayat 183-185: "O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint, fasting for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number should be made up from days later. For those who can do it with hardship, is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew."
An excerpt from Ms. Kinani's book addresses the breaking of the fast at sunset, also known as iftar. One of the traditional prayers of supplication or dua(s), as Muslims refer to them, spoken when breaking their fast is: "O Allah, I have fasted for You and I break my fast with Your sustenance and in You I believe and on You I rely. The thirst is gone. And the veins are wet and the reward has been written insha’Allah." (Insha'Allah is an Arabic term commonly used among Muslims that, translated, means God-willing.)
Readers of Ms. Kinani's book also expressed that they enjoyed learning more about Ramadan and stressed the importance of having similar books available in libraries to promote a better understanding of what it is to be Muslim.
A particularly endearing personal Ramadan memory of Ms. Kinani stems from a time in Morocco, where she was raised. She and her mother were scurrying to their neighborhood mosque to pray the first of a Muslim's five daily prayers; fajr. Holding hands as the pair sped along a path on their journey, Ms. Kinani recalls feeling blessed to have their flushed faces touched by the pre-sunrise, early morning breeze.
In Morocco, Ramadan is considered to be among the happiest of festivities, hence, to her, Ramadan is synonymous with enhanced spirituality, family reunions, and rich, gourmet dishes.
Ms. Kinani is also a freelance journalist and member of Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA); currently blogs for Global Voices Online and has been writing for more than 15-years.
She tends to write about issues pertaining to women, children's education and the economy. Ms. Kinani has also been known to lend her voice toward highlighting the living conditions of the poor in her native country of Morocco.
As a busy mother of two, she does not foresee writing another book for the next few years, but plans to continue writing articles and columns for Global Voices, Muslimah Writers Alliance, and MWA's Celebrating Ramadan Blog.
Additional information on Ms. Kinani can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/farah.kinani. Follow her on Twitter @anafoulla.
Isahah Janette Grant is a founding member of Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA), where she serves as the organization's membership coordinator. She also runs her own small business, Mindworks Publishing Inc., in addition to writing for the Houston Islam Examiner on Examiner.com. Ms. Grant is also the author of the children's book, Sameerah's Hijab and the First Day of School and is in the process of completing her first work of fiction. She also enjoys writing poetry. She studied at Boston University in Massachusetts, majoring in print journalism and currently resides in Missouri City, Texas, just outside of Houston, with her son and husband. Ms. Grant can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/isahahjanette