There was a news item in a daily newspaper here last week, extolling the achievement of a local nine-year-old boy. He was apparently going to attempt to fast for the whole of Ramadan. Last year, aged 8, he achieved a so-called half-day fast.
[For those of you who may not be aware of what fasting is all about: briefly, it includes going without food and water from sun-up to sundown for a lunar month. The purpose is to turn one's thoughts to one's spiritual life, and to feel compassion for those who do not have the necessities of life.]
The boy's parents were proud, the newspaper reporter obviously thought this was an achievement of merit.
Sorry, I think it stinks. And I think his parents need a lesson in parenting, in childcare and in compassion. Are they really thinking of their child, or just enjoying boasting about him and getting his picture in the newspaper?
Islam says that fasting is for adults, not children. One assumes this is for obvious reasons: a growing child's body has certain needs - like water in a hot climate like ours. Send a kid to school, where he races around with his playmates without thinking that he has to last the whole day, and he could get severely dehydrated, putting a strain on immature kidneys. Doing this for day after day after day for a month, and you could be sowing the seeds of kidney disease in later life.
I would like to see religious leaders speak out against this kind of unholy abuse of children. I would like to see religious teachers in schools condemn to their students the whole idea of "half-day" fasts (which have no merit anyway) and not to condone any other attempt by children to emulate their adults in fasting month. I would like Muslim doctors to speak out and tell parents what the consequences can be.
Encouraging a child to fast is unIslamic, surely. I lived in an Arabic Muslim country for 2 years, and parents there were horrified at the idea of children fasting, and certainly would never have encouraged any childish attempts to do so.