Dear Ali: My children are 9 and 10 years old and I would like to train them to start fasting. We live in Ireland and it's not as easy to influence them here as it is in the Arab world. Can you can offer any suggestions? AA, Ireland
Dear AA: It can be difficult to encourage youngsters to fast in a non-Islamic environment, especially when your iftar timings are about 9pm. Still, there are many things you can do, sister, and I pray your efforts will prove worthwhile.
First, I urge you to sit down with them and lightly explain the concept of Ramadan and why we fast. Children respond to stories and examples, so try to use relevant ones that are short and sweet. After all, you want them paying attention.
I suggest starting with half a day and gradually building up to a full day of fast, or perhaps they can abstain from eating the whole day and have some water. Involve them in the kitchen and help them to make their favourite dessert. Decorate your house so that it's colourful and festive with items that symbolise Ramadan such as the moon and lanterns. They will love it and feel the spirit instantly. Conduct Ramadan quizzes, and if they win, make their favourite iftar dishes. Motivate them to strive for religious reward by sharing suhoor.
Furthermore, encourage your children to contemplate issues and chores, such as reflecting on the poor. Always make a point of conducting daily prayers together, rather than everyone praying alone. It will give you all a sense of achievement and bring you closer together. YouTube streams the Mecca prayers live from Saudi Arabia. Watch it together so your children know the vastness of this topic by seeing fellow Muslims praying in huge groups. Alternatively, you can play Islamic nasheeds, since songs are an effective way for youngsters to learn.
Teach your children that Ramadan is also about giving, so whenever you want to make a donation, hand them the money and let them put it in the charity box or give it to a needy person on the street.
Try to surround yourself with like-minded families with the same goals. Having such a support system will ease the stress since you will notice others going through the same thing.
Dear Ali: We are driving to a business meeting with a company driver and there are four people - a local woman, an expat woman and two local men. Is there a specific order on who should sit where? If so, I would like to know if there is a cultural or Islamic explanation? KL, Abu Dhabi
Dear KL: You raise a good question and, yes, there is a certain way in which the seating should take place.
The first to go in on the back seat should be the local woman, on the far left. Then the expat woman sits next to her. One of the men takes the spot next to that woman and the other sits next to the driver.
The reason is that a local woman may feel embarrassed to sit next to a male colleague, since it is not our cultural background to mix that much. Even at work we try to keep a safe distance and be professional while representing ourselves in a conservative manner.
Please note that this doesn't mean it's OK for a local man to sit next to a western woman; it's just the best option in this case so as to not inconvenience the local woman. A local woman would rather sit next to a western woman than next to a local man.
This word is Emirati slang and is used by Emiratis of all ages. "Wain al drewel?" means "Where is the driver?"