Growing up in Trinidad, together with my grandmother, I joined in on celebrations of many cultures: we celebrated Eid with Muslims, Diwali with Hindus, and Christmas with Christians. Now, as an adult raising kids in this country, it’s troubling to me that there isn’t more awareness and appreciation of various cultures woven into every facet of every kid’s life. For example, April 12 marked the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims across the world this year. Ramadan is a month of spiritual reflection when Muslims gather, pray, and celebrate with loved ones. Many fast to deepen their commitment. But if you’re not Muslim yourself, how often over the last few weeks have you heard Ramadan come up at your kid’s school?
My partner, Adam, who is Jewish, and I know that having an anti-racist household starts with celebrating the joys of a variety of identities. Along with the understanding that certain communities in this country are marginalized and face grave injustices, it’s important to share about the joys and successes of other cultures with our children. This Ramadan, we added the newly released Hannah and The Ramadan Gift (Penguin Random House) to our bookshelf — and shared it with our son’s teacher to add to the school library.
The joy is really the greatest part of it.
Hannah and The Ramadan Gift, written by Qasim (pronounced like “awesome” with a Q) Rashid and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel, is a delightful story featuring Hannah, a young Muslim girl who is celebrating Ramadan with her family. Hannah, based on Rashid’s 5-year-old daughter (also named Hannah), is too young to fast, but her Dada Jaan says she can celebrate by “saving the world” instead. The reality of doing that, Hannah finds, is less glamorous than it sounds, but — though her progress is bumpy — she learns a valuable lesson: sometimes, the deeds that are most impactful are the ones that no one ever sees.
I had the opportunity to chat with Rashid, a human rights lawyer focused on domestic violence and immigration, about why this book is necessary for all kids right now and what he wishes other parents understood about Ramadan.
Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs: What drove you to write this book?
Qasim Rashid: I was raised with the idea of when you see a problem, you don’t complain about it. You fix it. Representation matters. My wife and I love reading and we wanted to infuse that love of reading with our kids. We were hard-pressed to find books about Ramadan, which is shocking because there are 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide and it’s the fastest growing religion. When I started exploring writing a book in the early 2000s, there weren’t many books focused on Ramadan so I wrote a concept and pitched it to a bunch of publishers and everyone said no, that there wasn’t a market for it. I kept pushing and found a wonderful team. Now here we are 13 years later and my book dream is finally coming to fruition.
When we talk about equity, the first step is finding joy in and celebrating a variety of identities. In your book, Hannah finds joy as a Muslim by helping others, especially when it’s not a public act. Why is that so important?
QR: This book is launching with the backdrop of a rise in anti-Asian violence and racist violence. The hope is that the book will set the tone for what should be normal. The goal is that when kids see what’s wrong, they can stand up against it — to create that level of engagement with people to push back against bigotry. Kids should go out and actively combat bigotry with compassion and education. We can’t just be not racist. We have to be anti-racist.
The goal is to treat everyone on earth the way you’d treat your children. The same way parents get up at night to tend to their children and they do it selflessly, that’s the joy that we strive for. That level of kinship with all of humanity is the goal.
But it all begins with joy. The joy is really the greatest part of it. There is the Islamic teaching of the three levels of good that we’re called to act upon, [starting with] kinship. This is the highest level. The goal is to treat everyone on earth the way you’d treat your children. The same way parents get up at night to tend to their children and they do it selflessly, that’s the joy that we strive for. That level of kinship with all of humanity is the goal. It’s a celebration of the journey to build with the human family. We cherish and embrace the differences.
[Next is] kindness. The lesson here is not being prompted to do what’s right. The goal is to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. [Finally], justice. In Islam, we learn that the goal is to be just. Anything less than just is not okay.
Can you talk a little more about the concept of fasting during Ramadan?
The purpose of the fast is to help a person gain empathy. While I’m voluntarily going without food for the holy month of Ramadan, there are people who have no choice. You begin to understand what it’s like to not have. It increases compassion and charity. People start fasting at adulthood, usually at 17 or 18. There are a lot of rules to exempt people from fasting. You can’t fast if you’re traveling. If you have a chronic illness or are pregnant or nursing, you can’t fast. The fast shouldn’t be physically harmful to you.
Ramadan culminates in Eid-ul-Fitr and that’s when you invite everyone over, even if they’re not Muslim. The focus is on the common theme of humanity.
What do you wish other parents knew or understood about Ramadan?
QR: The main theme of this book is that the single most important aspect of Ramadan is to bring humanity closer to each other and to God. We believe that saving the life of one person is akin to saving all of humanity. That begins by serving all humanity without discrimination. Ramadan should inspire you to increase your service to humanity, not for reward but because it’s the right thing to do.
What's one of the biggest misconceptions non-Muslims in the United States have about the way Muslim parents are raising their kids?
QR: This is a difficult question to answer because the American Muslim community is the most diverse faith community of any group in the country, spanning dozens of nationalities, cultures, and even sects. There's no monolith of Muslim parents. Perhaps the misconception is that we are a monolith, when in fact we're quite diverse and representative of the beautiful spectrum that is humanity.
How can other kids be more sensitive to Muslim kids during Ramadan?
QR: It’s important for people to normalize Ramadan. Normalize celebrating Eid. I wish people would view it the same way they view Christmas and Hanukkah because it’s a fun holiday. It’s a reflection on what you’ve been blessed with and a push to be compassionate.
#OneAction To Take Today
This Ramadan, read Hannah and The Ramadan Gift to your kids and spend time discussing the importance of doing good from the heart, even when it’s not a public act.
Raising Anti-Racist Kids is a column written by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs focused on education and actionable steps for parents who are committed to raising anti-racist children and cultivating homes rooted in liberation for Black people. To reach Tabitha, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram.