Should children fast during Ramadan?

While not mandatory, fasting below the age of puberty can be way of getting children used to the idea. However, health experts caution against fasting at too young an age. (Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for adults, not children, in Islam. But medical professionals recently spoke to Jordan News about if it’s healthy for children to fast during Ramadan.اضافة اعلان

“From a medical point of view, children under the age of 10 should not fast,” Nidal Saifan, a consulting pediatrician, told Jordan News. “But it is good to get children accustomed to fasting.” 

According to Saifan, the question of fasting depends on the age of the child. “I do not recommend that a child who is seven or six years old should fast. However, eight and nine-year-old children can fast depending on their size and endurance ability; this varies from child to child,” he explained. 

“The duration of fasting also plays a large role,” Saifan said. “During winter, the fasting time is short, the weather is cold, and it will not affect the child, but during summer, the weather is hot coupled with a long day; this may affect a young child’s health if the child does not have Suhur (pre-dawn meal) or plays in the sun.” He added that “A person must have good Suhur to fast.”

Islamic laws mandating fasting during Ramadan are imposed only on sane adults, according to the Hadith. “Therefore, fasting for children in Ramadan is not obligatory, but rather a form of love and encouragement,” said Ahmed Alharasis, the mufti in the General Ifta Department and director of the Institutional Planning and Development Bureau at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs

He told Jordan News that from the age of seven, families should gradually introduce fasting so that when children “reach the age of puberty, they would find themselves in full compliance to fast.” 

“We must send an important message to parents today that fasting is not obligatory for children under puberty,” Alharasis said. If a child is only fasting because of a “fear of parental abuse or ridicule if he breaks his fast … the child gets tired and sick, but what is important is that fasting does not lead to fatigue and illness in children.” He added that forced fasting can lead a child to hate the practice. 

One mother said that she follows Alharasis’ gradual approach to fasting.

“Children don’t need to fast during Ramadan. The point is to accustom the child to fasting,” said Fatima Nasrallah, a mother of three. “I mean, with the current circumstances, the child is at home 24 hours and has all the temptations around him, such as food, television, etc. To accustom him to fast, we start with, for example, two hours a day. After that, we gradually increase the time until his body accepts and adapts the idea of fasting.”  

According to Nasrallah, fasting can have important educational benefits for children. “The benefit from my point of view and the view of many mothers is that children wish for delicious food, sweets, and beverages, and in this holy month the children will feel for their peers who suffer from difficult living conditions thus appreciate the blessings that they have,” Nasrallah explained.

Dr Narmeen Jamal Al-Awwad, an assistant professor at the Hashemite University’s Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics echoed the same sentiment. “There is no need for children under the age of 10 to fast, it must be after puberty because the body has developed,” said Dr Awwad. 

Dr Awwad told Jordan News that “there is no risk or problem for children who fast, especially at 10 years of age or after … and they would have an opportunity to eat healthy food during this month if the parents are adopting a healthy eating pattern.” 

Nawa, a mother of four, said: “I do not think that fasting for children in Ramadan is obligatory. This is because Allah imposed fasting after puberty. After all, it is dangerous for children under the age of puberty to fast, which is a sensitive stage in the growth of any child.” 

“It is not permissible for children under the age of 10 to fast; the mother can accustom the child to fasting after puberty,” she said.

Ghadeer, a mother of two, said she believes children should fast during Ramadan “because they become accustomed to fasting from a young age” through the practice. “Also, because some parents will not be able to teach their children about fasting in the future,” she added.

“It is our responsibility as parents to educate our children on the values, morals, and the Five Pillars of Islam,” said Arwa Al-Faqeeh, mother of five.

“Also, there are ways to encourage our children to fast, like Ramadan decorations and collective worship, which are things that children love.” 

“Sharia does not impose fasting on a child who has not reached puberty,” Faqeeh added. “The parents must accustom their children to fasting just as they have been accustomed to prayer because when a person grows up, it becomes difficult to teach them.”

She explained that she gradually introduced her children to fasting beginning at the age of seven, increasing the length of the fast as the children grew older. 

“Gradually they will start to fast more,” she said. “They will also learn patience and exhibit the attitude of mercy by helping the poor.” 

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