In dark times, our instinct is always to ‘look for the helpers’ (Fred Rogers). An even stronger instinct, is to actually BE a helper. Personally, this is frustrating me right now as we have been told to do the opposite in many ways. We have been told to take our children and stay at home and do nothing, for our safety and that of others. And yet my heart yearns to the doctors, nurses, cleaners, supermarket stockers and sellers who are on the front line, so to speak. I have no such qualifications, and even if I did, what would I do with my kids?
So that got me thinking… what exactly CAN I do with my kids? I asked them too and together, we came up with quite a few ideas, so I thought I would share these, in case it is helpful to anyone else:
DO stay at home:
Time and time again, we have been told to do this. While we may remain asymptomatic or suffer only mildly, we can still carry it to others who are more vulnerable and this may only have an effect weeks after. So cancel your play dates, don’t be tempted to ‘make the most’ of this time off, and Stay. At. Home.
We all know the power of dua, and dua done by innocent hearts will Inshallah be heard and answered quickly! Age dependent, you can ask your children to recite 5 salawats, pray and extra 2 rakat salaat for hajaat, recite a tasbeeh of Ammayujeebul, or the short dua no 7 in Saheefe Sajjadiya (When Misfortune Descended and at the Time of Distress). Find something that works for you and your family and do it daily, Inshallah.
Many of us are supremely fortunate in where we live, the resources we have to stay occupied, and the healthcare system around us. There are millions of others – refugees, those in countries of povery, poor healthcare systems, war-torn countries – who do not have this soft landing to rely on. Many charities are now collecting to help support such people – discuss this with your children (age dependent), and encourage them to give from their own money that they may have. It does not have to be much, but every little helps.
Here are two reputable charities raising for this cause:
Paint something heartwarming and place it on your window/outside:
Many reports from Italy have emerged of people painting these rainbows with the words “Everything will be all right” and then hanging these off balconies and windows. Such a wonderful way to lift the spirits of those who still have to be outside and out and about!
And how about painting inspirational messages on rocks and leaving them outside for people to find?
(Rocks painted by Sarah Rosser – FB)
Or draw fun, inspirational messages on the pavement?
Reach out to your neighbours:
Many of us aren’t able to travel far to help people, but what about those in our locality? We may know our neighbours and have a WhatsApp group with them (and if we don’t, then what better time to make one?!), and so we can ask if any on there need any food/groceries, etc.
Becky Wass created this form to hand out to neighbours around her, offering help where needed. These cards can be a good way of getting some exercise in with the kids, and you can select what you can offer in terms of help to make it manageable. Here is the printable pdf: bit.ly/viralkindness
Uplift and interact with people around you – from a distance:
Although we may have to stay within our own spaces, there are many ways to interact with others around us. There have been numerous uplifting examples of neighbours in Italy and Spain (who are in lockdown) singing and playing music together from their balconies, doing exercise together and even playing tennis from windows! Necessity is the mother of invention – plant the idea in your children and see what emerges?!
Send care packages to hospitals:
A nurse friend suggested this, saying how overwhelmed, overworked and underappreciated they often felt, and how they would love to receive some support. So get baking with your kids (healthy yummy treats would be very appreciated I’m sure!), and drop them off to a hospital with some home-made cards (maybe with some poems that the children have written?) and let’s try and send them love and support in this way!
Donate to food banks:
With most religious organisations turning to live streaming, many of the popular sources of food donations to food banks have therefore been shut. One of our neighbours offered to collect food bank items from our street and go once a week to donate them to a food bank, and I thought it was such a lovely idea! So why not have a basket of donations that kids gather over the week, which you can then drop off?
Send cards to elderly:
As we all know, the group most vulnerable are the elderly. This means that visits to them – whether in their homes or in nursing homes – have been cut dramatically, probably adding more loneliness to their lives. One of the things we could do to help them know they are not alone and they are being thought of, is to send them cards.
Children can make and decorate these cards, write messages inside,, and then these can either be posted or popped into their letter boxes. Imagine their surprise at receiving these hand-made messages!
Facetime family and friends:
With the elderly that you know amongst family and friends, a great way to cheer spirits is to call regularly. I loved this idea of playing games with them online too – although there are plenty of online games to play together (like Psych), who’s to say you can’t play the traditional games like Scrabble?!
(Jennifer Williams Barnes – FB)
On a similar vein, check out this program to link the elderly with children to create lifelong friendships? Love the initiative – they are looking for both child volunteers (over 7) as well as elderly people who would love some company. Sign up on www.umojaoutreach.org/care
We are reminded all the time that Ramadan is a month like no other… and therefore, should not be treated like a normal month. It’s hours, minutes and seconds are precious… and yet, with Ramadan traditionally comes iftar invites, sehri gatherings, sports events and the like. And with that, potentially, the usual chit chat, time-passing and other things that are often not so fruitful.
So how can we marry the two? I have put together a list of ways we can change this gatherings into ibadah, Inshallah, if we do it right! Some are the usual ones, and hopefully some may be some new ideas for you 🙂
Clarify your niyyah
It is highly recommend to feed others during this month, and so inviting people over for Iftar is a great way to fulfil this. But whether you are inviting others, or going somewhere yourself, ensuring that your intention is to do it because it is an act that pleases Allah will hopefully bring blessings into your evening. Even if you go to play sports, clarifying your intention that you are doing it to keep your body healthy during this month, so that you can serve Allah in other ways, will allow you to transform that sport into worship.
Don’t overdo it
Now that your intention is sorted, it is important to remember that balance is important. Moderation is the way in Islam, and this is the same. There is no need to attend every event that is going on, or accept every invite. It is OK to be choosy and attend a select few which you think will be beneficial for you
Have a talk
Last night I attended a wonderful family gathering where we got together to celebrate the birthday of Imam Hasan (as), as well as enjoy some quality time together with cousins. The highlight of the evening was a short talk by a cousin, which was simple, practical and very effective. Adding meaning to a gathering by a short talk is a wonderful way to bless the occasion!
Share goals for the month
One lovely thing to do – especially closer to the beginning of the Holy month – is to identify and share at least one goal for yourself for Ramadan. We did this in a friend’s group one year, and found that hearing other’s goals not only inspired us but helped us clarify our own, and motivated us to see it through! To top it all off, the hostess gifted us a little notebook for penning down these goals and other reflections during the month, and had blessed it with a personalised message for each of us!
Share a hadith each
If you feel a talk is too formal, or perhaps no one attending can give a talk, then another great way to get everyone learning as well is to ask all coming to bring a hadith to share. When we did this at a gathering of friends recently, we found that the hadith that everyone chose to bring really inspiring and led to some great discussions!
Here is one of the hadith shared – very aptly 😉
Share any other info – a favourite verse, a favourite line of a dua, a new Quranic dua you want to learn, one thing they have learnt so far, etc!
In the same vein, why not branch out and give guests a little fun homework! So they can bring a favourite verse that they like, or their favourite line of dua, a new Quranic dua they want to learn to recite in their Qunoots, or even one thing they have learnt so far in the Holy month.
Somebody hosted a themed iftar last year – the theme was ‘His Love is in the Air’ 🙂 All the friends were actually asked to do all four of the suggestions above! Furthermore, they were asked to present it nicely, but were not told why. When everyone had eaten, they began sharing their four things and showing what they had put together. Once each person shared what they had chosen and why it was meaningful to them (which was beautiful in itself!), they picked a name out of a hat and in line with the verse, “You will not attain piety until you spend of what you love; and whatever thing you spend, Allah knows of it.” (3:92), they then were asked to gift their presentation of their favourite verse/dua etc, to that person whom they picked.
Then in line with Allah’s promise of giving us more when we give something, they each got a little something as a gift. The gifts were little things to do with the kitchen and home, such as a cake tin, worktop saver, etc, but each item had a small dua to go with it! So for example, with a tray, the message read: “A tray can hold so many things and requires a balancing act to carry! This Ramadan, may you put all of your prayers and problems on Allah’s tray and leave the balancing to Him!” and so on…
Alhamd it was a lovely evening filled with the remembrance of Allah in the most beautiful, personal way.
P.S. Here is the poster I got! It was so cleverly done, with pictures to symbolise each of the four things, and the text behind.
Play meaningful games
It doesn’t all have to be serious stuff in an iftar / sehri! But the games CAN be educational and fun too 🙂 One mum printed out short lines from the Quran / Duas and the aim of the game was for one person from each team to take turns to pick a chit, read out the line (Arabic AND meaning) and use that to try and guess which Sura or Dua it was from. It was scored so 2 points for a correct guess. A little help could be given from the rest of the team and then it would be scored as 1 point. Once done, they got to choose a little gift from a bag, and then create a little personal dua from it! For example, if they picked a water bottle, they might say: “I pray for Allah to keep helping us grow with His help, just like water helps things grow!”
Here is the document for those that want to try it 🙂
Discuss a good book
Last year we started a book club, and held our first sehri during the month of Ramadan. The book was secular, but had lots of links to Islam and as we all shared our thoughts and relevant hadith on the topic, it felt like a beautiful session with God at it’s center. Why not choose a book a month in advance, and set a date to discuss it during a gathering?
(P.S. This wasn’t the book we read for Ramadan, this came later… but you get the gist ;))
Hold an event for a greater cause
There is a group in our community who host a beautiful iftar every Ramadan, and it’s ultimate goal is to raise money for charity. We pay tickets to the event, and there are raffles sold with lots of people donating their services as prizes; lots of money is raised, and an evening of community building and fun is had in the process!
Top it all off with Sadaqah!
And lastly, a lovely way to top it all off is to encourage giving when people attend a gathering. For younger children, inviting them to bring in food to donate to a food bank, or new gifts to give to refugees or the sick, is a lovely way to incorporate charity into an event. For adults, having a sadaqah box present on the table alongside the food, and inviting people to donate to a cause is also a lovely idea.
Have you had any meaningful gatherings during Ramadan? Please do share!
We usually go in once a year for an RE day – this year, we decided to do a play about sayings from the Prophet Muhammad (saw). With only one practise, Alhamd the Key Stage 2 kids did brilliantly! Here is the script.
There were two performances, one to the whole of KS1, and then to KS2. After they had watched the play, there were follow up activities that the classes went on to do in their classrooms with their teachers, and a parent helper.
Reception, Year 1:
This class had an activity based on the hadith: “Greeting people and having a cheerful face is a form of charity.” They had a quick discussion on this, and then moved on to the activity of making a smiley paper plate. They put googly eyes on and decorated it, and stuck on a piece of paper with the hadith written on it. They stuck it on a lollipop stick so that they could wear it as their own face when greeting someone!
They then could colour this colouring sheet or take it home:
The activity organised for this class was centered around concept the of forgiveness, taken from a hadith of the Prophet pbuh: “Forgiving is the best of all actions.” The children all got busy making a chatterbox, in which they all had to write something about forgiveness or what they understand forgiveness to be.
After that was completed, we used dissolvable (Vitamin C) tablets in which the children picked one and put into a jug of water with the thought of forgiving somebody. As the tablet fizzled away into nothing, this was related to any hurt or anger fizzling away inside them as well. This giving them an opportunity to practice forgiveness.
After this activity, this short story was read to them. The children were really engaging and enjoyed their afternoon.
After the play the year 4 classes had activities based on the Saying of Prophet Muhammad – “The strongest among you is the one who controls his anger.”The activities for the classes were as follows:The following clip was to be shown which was based on what happens in our brains when we get angry and how to control our anger.
The students were then asked to make these anger chatterboxes. Students were given the pre printed chatterboxes and they cut them to size and thereafter folded them and coloured them in as appropriate and played the chatterbox game with their peers. The purpose of this activity was that the chatterboxes had techniques on how to control one’s anger so it was an indirect method to educate the students on anger management.Once all the students had finished making their chatterboxes, the following clip had been arranged to be shown which was based on relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
A recommended book to read with them was Angeryella!
After the play, the children from Years 5 and 6 stayed in the hall to discuss another saying of the Prophet: “The cure for ignorance is to ask questions.” (PPT available for download here). We began by looking at what ignorance means, and then what type of things we are ignorant about. As the kids brainstormed, they began to realise that there is a lot we don’t know, and actually “we are ignorant about what we are ignorant about”! Some things included other cultures, religions, foods, and even what other people have been through and are feeling.
We then moved on to talk about what ignorance leads to – one main thing being fear – we are often scared by what we don’t know, especially if we look through the world with our BLM glasses – ‘Be Like Me’ glasses mean we expect everyone to be like us and we don’t like it when things are different. This fear then leads to things like prejudice and racism, and acting on these feelings hurt others.
Then we discussed how we could prevent this from happening – and it led us back to the saying, to cure ignorance, we need to ask questions to learn, and take off our BLM glasses. The students then had a ponder on different questions they wanted to ask, and wrote a question down on a post-it note and stuck it up. Their questions were thought-provoking and honest, and ranged from: “Why do people feel the need to be rude about people’s religions” to Why has your hand got 5 fingers?”, “Why do people eat meat”, “Why do Muslims wear headscarves” and – my favourite – “What is chicken masala?”
Unfortunately we did not have the chance to answer all these questions! We wrapped the session up by watching Episode 2 of Season 2 of The Kindness Diaries – a series where a guy called Leon travels from Alaska to Argentina in a bright yellow VW beetle, with NO money and relying only on the kindness of others. He comes across 2 people in this episode that reflect the impact of ignorance and fear – such as the removal of Native Indians from their home in the Bush in Canada to forcibly being schooled in English schools to remove their culture, and another guy in Canada who hosts a BBQ every Wednesday in his home for refugees and people from all over the world, to give them a sense of community, saying that the answer to this fear is simply to get to know the other.
A fitting end to the session on the beautiful saying of our Prophet!
THE LITTLE WHITE ENVELOPE: “It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.
Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.
That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.
Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.
The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope.
Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.” For the Man Who Hated Christmas
(A true Christmas Story by Nancy W. Gavin, December 2015)