This year I realised that Ramadan-decor has become a ‘thing’ and I’m not sure how I feel about it. A part of me likes the idea of preparing for this holy month in some special way, taking out the good cutlery and making an effort to dress for prayers and iftaar.
The tradition of making ‘Ramadan foods’ that are unique to every culture (and family!), the setting up of supplication times; there’s something about these little routines that create the atmosphere of Ramadan. However, a part of me is wary about the growing trend of trying to make this month ‘festive’.
I find I am okay with the idea of handmade paper-chains and colouring crescent posters because there is an element of intention, focus and personal involvement in these activities. Also, they are both cheap and creative – my favourite combination. However, when it comes to bespoke decorations involving door-wreaths and ‘Ramadan moon’ trees that look eerily like Christmas trees, just moon-shaped – then a part of me inside begins to quiver uncomfortably.
The over-cautious part of me begins to have visions of future generations celebrating a commercialised Ramadan that has become just a shell of the true spirit of this holy month. I see Ramadan becoming a season for frenzied rushes to the shops for decor, ornaments and gifts in the same way Christmas and other religious festivals have become over the past decades. I am afraid of losing the true understanding of how spiritual this month is in the excitement of preparing materially for it.
That’s why when I got a chance to review ‘The Pool of Paradise: A 30 Day Curriculum’ by Elizabeth Bootman, I could not say no. The book is promoted as an extremely simplified version of the celebrated literary masterpiece of Persian literature by poet Faridud-Din Attar, ‘Conference of the Birds’. The original poem is a story about the journey of thirty birds, each representing an essential human flaw, towards the Creator. It is about shedding away the layers of attachment to this world that burden all of us and reaching the realisation of True Unity.
I was interested to see how these deep, philosophical ideas have been explained for children. The chapters were very short, repetitive really in the argument presented by each bird to their leader, the Hoopoe, and his response that convinced them. I got the feeling that the original piece was able to explore each flaw in greater clarity because an adult can understand – and appreciate – the nuances of human character. Children work with a simpler range of emotions and cannot comprehend certain feelings.
The few themes that were in the book were relevant though: fear, insecurity, pride, disobedience, all of which even a toddler can relate to on some level. There are prophetic stories interspersed that would be of interest to older children as well a few questions at the end of every lesson. I found the questions a little vague and I’m not sure how well they would be able to answer them. However, children can surprise us with their wisdom, so I look forward to revisiting them when my daughter is older.
The best bit about the book was the suggested activity of drawing a pool and having a child stick the picture of each bird with its related moon-phase everyday around the pool so that by the time the story ends after 30 days, all the birds are gathered around the pool and in seeing their reflections, they finally realise the truth of their relationship with their Creator.
The author, Elizabeth Bootman, runs the SirajunMunira website and is particularly interested in introducing the spiritual and mystical side of Islam to children. There are quite a few books available on her site and it might be worth a look if you have precocious children or want to develop a greater maturity towards the essence of religion in them from a young age.
However, there are references within the stories to traditions that are inauthentic, I would definitely say this book requires parental reading beforehand and should not be left to a child of reading age to explore on their own because without some personal investment on one’s own part, they are simply tales and could actually become confusing rather than enlightening. The entire story is very much about detaching from the world and all possessions, which is something that we need to reflect on in our daily lives throughout the year and not just in the holy month of Ramadan.
I’m glad I found this book. I might not embrace it in its entirety, but I can definitely adapt it to suit our lifestyle. In fact, I think I might learn more from contemplating the individual challenges of the birds than my toddler will for now. In the meantime, I think – for this year at least – I will continue to keep the ‘decor’ side of things low-key and concentrate on the intangible ideas, in small doses.
Ramadan preparations for us will include simple things like going to buy dates, deciding when to invite friends and family over to share iftaar with us, getting new Qur’an bookmarks and special attar scents for prayers. It will also include setting up some sort of plan for what we want to achieve this month whether it be in terms of reciting lesser-known supplications, exploring the literary works of the AhlulBayt(a), focusing on conscious charity or making an effort to apply Quranic injunctions to our everyday lives.
My hope and desire is to be able to internalise the meaning of Ramadan so completely in our lives and in the subconscious mind of my child that when she grows older, we can indulge in some of the external activities and not risk being distracted from the actual essence of this month, which is to concentrate on strengthening the connection we have with our Lord.