Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi is a picture book about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although it was written for Muslim children, I recommend it for Christian children, and in particular Orthodox Christian children, as well.

Our children need at least a basic understanding of the faith and practices of their neighbors. It’s hard to love people if you don’t know them or anything about them or the things that are important to them. And this little book provides a simple introduction to Ramadan, a season that is as important to our Muslim neighbors as Lent is to us.

Zachariah’s Perfect Day may remind you of many Sunday School books. The book includes a story, but it’s not really a story book. The story is simply a matrix in which Qazi has embedded information about Ramadan.

Similarities and Differences

Orthodox Christian children will, I think, be fascinated by the similarities between Ramadan and their own Lenten fasting, and by the differences.

The biggest difference is that we fast primarily by limiting what we eat. During Lent, we abstain from meat. Many of us also abstain from eggs and dairy, and some of us also abstain even from fish and wine and oil.

Muslim people fast primarily by limiting when they eat. During Ramadan, Muslims have nothing to eat or drink, not even water, from sunrise to sunset. When Ramadan falls during the summer, as it does this year, that can be incredibly challenging.

Like us, Muslims don’t expect young children to fast. Depending on the family, an Orthodox Christian child might take on the simplest part of our fast, abstaining just from meat, perhaps, but not from eggs or dairy. A Muslim child, likewise, might fast for just the morning, breaking their fast at lunch rather than after sunset.

Fasting and Almsgiving

In the story, Zachariah is twelve years old, and this is his first year to keep the Ramadan fast. The whole family gets up before sunrise to share a festive breakfast. Then, after morning prayers, Zachariah and his parents (but not his younger sister, Aiza) will have nothing more to eat or drink for the rest of the day.

Zachariah’s parents ask him questions about fasting, to make sure he understands the fast. When asked why they’re fasting, Zachariah gives a bookish answer about celebrating new beginnings. Aiza jumps in to say that it’s necessary to learn patience and obedience. And she says that the thing she likes best about fasting is all the delicious food! That makes her family laugh. But it’s true that, in Muslim families, there is a lot of delicious food during the fast. Each morning, before morning prayers, the family shares a special breakfast, and each evening, after the sun sets, they share a special meal.

Aiza also says she loves the helping the poor so much during Ramadan. As with our Lenten fast, almsgiving – in particular, feeding the poor – is an essential part of the Ramadan fast. Some families give money in order to feed the poor. Aiza and Zachariah’s family make enough food for their meals that they can take it to a poor family to provide their meals during Ramadan.

A Little Like Lent

Like Orthodox Christian children during Lent, Zachariah worries about what to do if he forgets and breaks the fast by accident. His father kindly tells him what many of us have told our children: “If you forget and you eat, it is a gift for you. You can keep fasting just like it didn’t happen.”

During Ramadan, many Muslim families also limit worldly pursuits, such as playing on the computer or shopping. Like Orthodox Christian families during Lent, they choose to spend more time in simple family activities, and in spiritual pursuits.

After breakfast and morning prayers, Zachariah goes back to bed for a nap before he starts his day. It’s a regular day for him. He goes to school and does all of the things he normally does, except that at lunch, he sits and talks with his friends, but he doesn’t eat. When he gets home, he helps his mom cook for the Iftar meal, the meal that breaks the fast after sunset. It’s a lot like cooking for Pascha during Holy Week – you’re making lots of fabulous foods that you can’t have until a little later.

Resources and Recipes

Because the book is intended for Muslim children, it includes many words based in their faith and practice that I didn’t know. There’s not a glossary in the back, so be prepared to look up a few of the words if you need to. You might also choose to read a bit more about the significance of fasting in Islam.

Zachariah’s Perfect Day includes recipes in the back, including a recipe for Zachariah’s favorite Ramadan treat, deep fried Oreos. That more than makes up for the lack of a glossary!

Update

I’ve been told that a later printing of Zachariah’s Perfect Day includes a glossary in the back, after the recipes. That’s a nice addition for readers who aren’t Muslim.

Read More

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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