Book Review: Welcome Ramadan!

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I bought this book years ago, excited at the prospect of a children’s book dedicated to Ramadan (and not just Eid!)

Welcome Ramadan!

Lila Assiff-Tarabain

New Delhi: Goodword

English

24 pp.

978-81-7898-545-4

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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Welcome Ramadan! is a nice little story about the Islamic month of Ramadan, as observed by Muslims from all over the world. The month is commonly referred to as the “Month of Fasting” and is followed by the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. This story, which was written to be a handy resource for parents and teachers not familiar with Ramadan, follows Bilal and Maysa, a brother-sister duo, from sighting the first moon until the day of Eid. Maysa teaches her younger brother Bilal about the concept of Ramadan as explained to her by her parents.

The story starts off with beautiful sentiment, “Hello Moon! What a welcome sight! We’ve searched for you throughout the night.” A few other references to the moon are made throughout the story, adding a romantic touch. The language is simple and the ideas are easy to follow, making the text suitable for young children (3+), however, the rhyming pattern is distracting. Some sentences rhyme, while others do not, making it awkward to read aloud. The author would have done better to narrate the story naturally instead of jumping between rhyming and non-rhyming text.

At first, I was worried that the book would only emphasize the “not eating” aspect of fasting (since the first four pages after the moon sighting are all about eating patterns), but fortunately, as the story progresses, other aspects of fasting our acknowledged. Some are very specific behaviours to abstain from, for example, not biting, shouting or lying and some are general behaviours to engage in, for example, reading Quran, prayers of thanks, charity and doing good deeds. I appreciate that in the story, the author reminded us that we should ask Allah to allow us to keep our fasts, an important reminder in the face of increasingly long days and warm weather.

Welcome Ramadan! is a thin glossy-paged paperback, making it easy to slip into a purse or backpack. The pages are well-designed and the illustrations make good use of space. They are attractive and professionally done, but the people appear quite cartoonish and typical of Goodword books. As with many Muslim children’s books, the typesetting could have benefited from choosing an easier-to-read font. I was also a little annoyed at the depiction of the characters in the book. While the pictures show multicultural Muslims, all of the characters (except for in one picture of people praying in congregation) appear in hijab or a kufi (a headcovering for a man) throughout the entire book, regardless of the time of day or activity. I found this perplexing because right at the beginning of the story, Maysa tells her brother they are too young to fast (but clearly, they are not too young to be wearing a headscarf and kufi on every page!) This sort of subliminal messaging is both confusing for children and inconsistent with the teachings of Islam. In the author’s defence, she probably did not influence this aspect of the book as illustrators are usually sourced by the publishing company.

Welcome Ramadan! is an admirable attempt to introduce Ramadan to the larger society, however I feel that it falls short in one very important way. When Bilal asks his sister, “Why can’t we eat?” she trivializes the question by telling him that they are too young to fast and that they still need food to help them grow. While this is true, it completely disregards the important discussion about why Muslims in general, fast. I appreciate that the book acknowledges other aspects of Ramadan and even includes a one-page Parent/Teacher Guide at the end, but generally, it reduces the discussion around fasting to (lack of) food. I strongly believe that the conversation about Ramadan needs to shift away from that. Not eating while fasting is a means to something bigger, not the end that we should be focused on. That being said, Welcome Ramadan! could be a starting point for a discussion about Ramadan or fasting but it definitely needs to be supplemented by other books and/or discussion uncovering why Muslims fast, not simply how they fast.

For more Muslim children’s book reviews, please visit Lala’s Library.

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