Seven-year-old Gabriel Zambri is excited because it is the Ramadan month.
“It’s when I get to make a ‘share box’ of things to give to friends who need them, and hopefully, it’ll make them smile, ” he says.
He is referring to the Ramadan gift boxes that he and his siblings, Zachary, 10, and Ailee, 3, make, together with their parents, Zambri Mohtar, 40, and Deelaila Ramzi, 34, to give to those in need every Ramadan. It’s a family tradition.
“The children will have boxes labelled “share” on them, which they will fill up with books, stationery, toys, clothes, and food, and then we’ll help them deliver it to the needy, ” explains his father Zambri.
“Of course, I like it because it’s my birthday month too, ” adds Gabriel as he smiles cheekily. “And I love the bedtime stories of heroes and heroines in Islam which mummy and daddy will read together with us, ” he says.
The couple who live in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, believe that the holy month is a time of growth and learning as they teach their three children about cultivating good habits such as giving.
Prayer and reflection
“Ramadan is a time of prayerful reflection and teaches us to be humble and mindful in all that we do, ” says Zambri, who works as an engineer.
“It’s a good reminder for us too as we teach our children about giving, forgiveness, patience and gratitude. It takes our family back to the basics in valuing life’s simple pleasures, ” he says.
The couple have been teaching their children about journaling and this Ramadan, the young ones will continue to journal their feelings, goals and dreams.
“It’s important to cultivate good habits from young, and we’ve been teaching the children about goal setting. For example, setting achievable goals for fasting streaks, completing their Quran recitation and gaining a deeper understanding of the Quran and doa (supplications), ” explains Zambri.
For the young family, Ramadan is also a time of family togetherness.
“We recite the Quran together and perform our daily terawih prayers together as a family, ” says Deelaila, a jewellery designer who runs her own online business.
During this holy month, the couple also read and discuss about Islamic knowledge together with their children, share about stories of the prophet and his companions, and listen to lectures online.
In fact, they have a little teepee - a nook that allows the children to have their own quiet place – especially for reading and sharing stories, says Deelaila.
This is where they share stories about heroes and heroines in Islam.
“We take turns to sit in the teepee and share what we’ve read, ” she says.
“We also have a little table with fresh flowers which are changed twice a month. The children take turns to choose a flower of the week and they’ll get to learn about the flowers at the same time.
“There’s also a clock, so they can perform prayers at the correct time, ” she adds.
“We have sahur and iftar together. The whole family will provide their input on what food they’d like to have during iftar and we’ll plan the menu together, ” she says.
“I love the family time and having delicious meals for iftar, ” chips in Zachary.
They also have other activities that they do together as a family.
“To encourage creativity in our children, on weekends, we do paintings on canvas with a nature theme together.
“It reminds us of our creator and how thankful we are to be living on such a beautiful earth, ” says Deelaila.
The couple have shared some wonderful Ramadan memories together, one being when their eldest son Zachary completed his first full day of fasting and was able to memorise a few surahs (chapters) from the Quran.
“It was in 2018 when he was seven years old, ” share the couple as they smile proudly.
Like most Muslim families, they have a few special Ramadan traditions to look forward to every year.
“Our children look forward to decorating the home just before Ramadan. We enjoy creating art together, and they also like to diffuse their favourite essential oil blends which triggers wonderful memories, ” says Deelaila.
“I like (making) the moon and stars!” says Ailee, referring to the Ramadan decorations that they made.
“At the start of each Ramadan, we’ll give our children a Ramadan basket which includes prayer mats, prayer beads, books and activity kits about the season which is something fun for them to look forward to, as well, ” says Deelaila.
Ailee happily points to the basket next to her, which also includes a telekung (prayer scarf for females).
“Just before every Ramadan, I will also design and handmake tasbih (prayer beads) with semi precious stones, and the children get to help, ” says Deelaila.
“I usually get the children to string a bead or two before completing the design.
“The art of creating something together as a family is meaningful not just for us, it also makes each prayer bead special to the user, ” she says as Ailee indicates the prayer beads in her Ramadan basket.
“There is also story telling about Ramadan, where we share about the blessing of the month, rewards offered during this time, which makes this month special, ” says Deelaila.
Conversation and communication
Because of the pandemic, Zambri, Deelaila and their children aren’t able to spend Ramadan with their loved ones who live in Kuala Lumpur. It was the same unfortunate situation last year.
“Of course, we’ll miss having sahur and iftar with our parents who live in KL, preparing meals and cooking together, having in-person conversations and performing terawih prayers together, ” says Deelaila.
“But although we miss them, thanks to technology, we’re able to keep each other updated on our daily lives, ” she adds.
“It’s been a year of reflection and adapting to the new norms, and we’ve learnt to appreciate and be grateful for the simple things in life. Family and loved ones are so important, ” says Zambri.
“It might be a virtual Raya this year again – instead of going to each other’s houses, we can video call to wish one another ‘Selamat Hari Raya’.
“And instead of giving and receiving Duit Raya in envelopes, we can give and receive e-Duit Raya, ” he adds.
But even though it may be a simple Raya celebration this year, it can still be an intimate and meaningful one, the couple concur.