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Ramadan in UAE: 'After Iftar Tales' bring joy, knowledge to kids

enid@khaleejtimes.com Filed on April 12, 2021

Photos/Supplied


Mona Siddiqui

Mehnaz Anshah

Maryam Mohamed Osama

Sadia Anwar

Tayyaba Anwar

We speak to some authors of the stories that aim to convey fundamental concepts about the month of Ramadan.

As the holy month of Ramadan begins, families come together to observe their fasts and make time for quiet reflection. On this occasion and to mark the spirit of the season Islamic brand Bismillah Buddies decided to launch a collection of stories that aim to convey not only familial and cultural values but also fundamental concepts about the month of Ramadan.

After Iftar Tales, a collection of 10 stories by 8 authors revolving around Ramadan, brings in fun as well as thoughtful and current elements that will engage the young reader (and even older ones), like a female commander who observes Iftar in space, and a child who is spending her first Ramadan without her mother. Among the tales are stories with the pandemic as a backdrop which remind us of the importance of observing customs even under difficult circumstances, and also the joys of connecting with family.

The founders of Bismillah Buddies, UAE-based Sadia Anwar, Tayyaba Anwar, Shabna Ibrahim and Mehnaz Anshah, spoke with City Times about the launch of the book and the idea behind starting their brand.

“Bismillah Buddies (then Babies) began when our children were young. We looked around for an Islamic Value-Themed playgroup that was fun yet educational. We didn’t find any at the time, so we started our own in 2013. We ran these learn-through-play sessions for two years before we released our first book in 2015. We’ve continued to run these sessions since then and have released many books and products that we thought our own kids and the children in our community would enjoy and benefit from,” they said.

Three of the founding members, Sadia Anwar, Tayyaba Anwar and Mehnaz Anshah, have written stories for After Iftar Tales. How were the other authors picked?

“In January this year, we held an open call on our social media channels via Instagram and Facebook, asking people to send in their short stories based on the values of Ramadan. We organised a team of five people to read through the stories and shortlist the ones that seemed workable. After this followed a rigorous few weeks of editing, making revisions, and designing the illustrations. Other than our team here in Dubai, we have two authors locally and one author each from Egypt, UK and South Africa who have all been amazing at responding to our requests and working hard to fine tune their stories until they were ready to publish. Two of the authors are 12-year-old girls. We have chosen to not display their ages in the book because their work was as good as the adults’ and they deserved to be recognised for it rather than for their age.”

City Times also caught up with some of the authors featured in After Iftar Tales, to discuss their stories and what inspired them to write about Ramadan.

Mona Siddiqui

Story: Ramadan Fan Club

Tell us a little about the story you wrote for After Iftar Tales.

Ramadan Fun Club is about a group of 9-11 year old boys who, indignant at feeling left out of a Ramadan session for their older sisters, decide to DIY their own Ramadan fun. What follows is a fun, charming series of events, rousing the Ramadan spirit within the community and then coming together to breathe life into the boys’ vision!

What inspired your story and what would you want kids to take away from it?

Real-life events actually inspired this tale — the boys are based on my son and his friends who pretty much had the same experience in Ramadan last year. They made grand plans but being young and easily distracted, with moms who were busy with their own Ramadan preps, sadly, their ideas crashed and burned within days.

I would love for the children who read this story to own their Ramadan experiences — the spirit and the actions that they entail; to give all of their ideas a shot, wonderfully strange or crazy as they may be!

Mehnaz Anshah

Stories: Haboba’s Candy Tin, The Missing Envelope

Tell us a little about the stories you wrote for After Iftar Tales.

The character from Haboba’s Candy Tin was inspired by my own grandfather who, even though wheelchair-bound at a young age, had a larger-than-life personality. As grandkids we used to love spending time with him and waited eagerly to be rewarded with candy from his candy tin. It is a story of family and connections with people that transcend relations or borders.

The Missing Envelope is about a young girl who’s staying home and staying safe because of Covid-19. She misses being around her friends at school and just can’t seem to get into the spirit of Ramadan.

What inspired your stories and what would you want kids to take away from them?

Having spent the past year away from my extended family, I have been reminiscing about my childhood memories of countless summer evenings spent with cousins, through Zoom conferences with my family around the world. This story was a piece of my childhood and the whole setting is based on the kind of life I want for my own children. A deep connection with the older generation, absorbing the wisdom and bringing joy through shared experiences.

The Missing Envelope was written after seeing my children go through lockdown and distance learning last year due to Covid-19. Life as they knew it abruptly came to an end. They had some intense feelings to process with their young minds. I hope this story gives them a feeling of belonging and they understand that they’re not alone in this.

Maryam Mohamed Osama

Story: The Iftar Thief

Tell us a little about the story you wrote for After Iftar Tales.

My story is about a girl named Maya. It is her first time fasting for the whole day in Ramadan. She sneaks food that her mom makes for Iftar several times (with her mom noticing food items that go missing) before she finally recognises her mistake and confesses to her mom about what she did.

What inspired your story and what would you want kids to take away from it?

I used to sneak food from the kitchen in Ramadan when I was little. That’s why when I got an opportunity to write a story about Ramadan, I chose to write about my own experience. I want kids to learn that making mistakes is okay because everyone makes mistakes, and to learn that telling the truth is always important. I also want them to know that if they’re trying something for the first time, it’s alright to not be able to do it right away.

Sadia Anwar

Story: Abdu’s Eid Wish

What her story is about:

It is about a young boy who lives in a village in Kerala, and misses his father who works in Dubai. His father doesn’t make it home for Ramadan because of the lockdown, and Abdu is determined to get his father home — by hook or crook. He sees his mother praying, but that isn’t enough, he decides to take action and go fetch his father.

The inspiration behind her story and what she wants kids to take away from it:

I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling to share feelings, ideas and to educate. I wrote this story with my nine-year-old son in mind. It is a complex story, and there were many issues I wanted to discuss with my son. I tried to weave all of them into an engaging story that had elements of fun, adventure and danger. It is crafted around something I could easily see my son do. I think every mother will see a little part of her child in Abdu, and his thoughts and actions: the willfulness, the love, the disregard for danger, the vulnerability and sheer luck that seems to protect children often.

When they read this story, I want children to laugh, be entertained and a little scared too. I want them to be able to see themselves in a village boy and form a connection across countries and cultures. I want children, like mine, to appreciate things we take for granted — like having your family close to you. I want them to be able to notice the pros and cons of the urban life and privilege we enjoy living in a city like Dubai.

Tayyaba Anwar

Stories: The Lantern, Iftar In Space

What her stories are about:

The Lantern is a story about a family heirloom and how it came to be an important part of one family’s Ramadan traditions. It involves a hardworking, but poor farmer who has a special skill and his young son who sets out on a night adventure.

Iftar in Space is about an unusual place where Commander Noora breaks her fast. It was inspired by Hazza Al Mansouri’s space mission.

The inspiration behind her stories and what she wants kids to take away from them:

I wrote The Lantern to emphasise that the values of kindness, generosity and the love of family are timeless. The story doesn’t mention where it takes place, it can be anywhere in the world. Children can imagine that it takes place wherever they are. I wanted to convey that the spirit of Ramadan transcends our differences and is universal. Lighting the lantern signifies passing on these values to our children to help ground them for all the challenges they may face in life.

I wrote Iftar In Space to inspire children to follow their dreams and never give up because of the hurdles that they face. Islam encourages us to seek knowledge and be of benefit to mankind. Living in the UAE has taught me that a person doesn’t have to let go of their religious or cultural values to be a part of the modern world. It is possible to do both with excellence.

Jihan Anshah

Story: A Mother’s Memory

What her story is about:

My story is about a young girl who has recently lost her mother and feels like Ramadan won’t be the same that year. But her father and brother try to bring back the spirit of Ramadan through her mother’s memories.

The inspiration behind her story and what she wants kids to take away from it:

This story was written as part of a writing prompt given by Bismillah Buddies for children last year. When the opportunity for this book came up, I thought I would refine it a bit further to make it into a short story. I want kids my age or younger to know that you can find happiness even after experiencing loss.

Malika Kahn

Story: The Ramadan Surprise

What her story is about:

It tells the story of young Amina who is excited to attend her first community Iftar at the masjid. In her excitement, she rushes towards the entrance, where she is met with a challenge. Amina adores mosques very much, but the problem is that it’s not as easy for her to go up the stairs as it is for others… she worries about what will happen in the future. Will there come a time when she can no longer go to the masjid? With this in mind, she makes a special dua.

The inspiration behind her story and what she wants kids to take away from it:

A few years ago, when my grandmother struggled to go up the stairs to the female section of the masjid, she sadly missed out on a milestone moment in my life. I then wondered about the struggles and worries that not only the elderly but Muslims of various ages with disabilities may have when it comes to attending a masjid that lacks wheelchair-friendly facilities, for example. Although there will almost always be someone willing to help, accessibility fosters inclusivity, which is incredibly important. This thought process inspired little Amina’s experiences. I hope that through her story, kids with similar disabilities feel seen and valued. I also hope that this story instills awareness and empathy, while also teaching young readers the power of dua and the importance of togetherness.

Zimarina Sarwar

Story: The Master Iftar Disaster

Tell us about the story you wrote for After Iftar Tales.

My contribution to the beautiful collection was The Master Iftar Disaster — a comedic, yet relatable story of an Iftar gathering that seems to experience one disaster after another. The characters are an eager family looking forward to hosting family and friends — and an excitable little toddler who is based on my own little one (but don’t tell him that!)

What inspired your story and what would you want kids to take away from it?

Every time I write a story, I stop and think about the message I really want to communicate with it. One of the most important things I have witnessed in my life again and again is that there is goodness in everything Allah sends our way, whether we see it immediately or not. With that in mind, I constructed a story where it seems like everything is about to end in tears — whereas in actual fact, the outcome was better than anybody could have seen coming!

More than anything, I’d like children to carry with them the idea that life will be full of many unexpected twists and turns — yet everything is part of a great Divine Plan and Allah always intends good behind everything He sends!

author

Enid Grace Parker

A bibliophile and amateur poetry enthusiast, Enid grew up in Dubai in the 80s and loves to add a dash of nostalgia to her stories. She enjoys retro music, vintage Hollywood and Bollywood films and hanging around coffee shops and city bookstores hoping an idea for that once-in-a-lifetime best-selling novel will finally pop into her head.





 
 
 
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