Muscat: While encouraging young children to learn the discipline of fasting at an early age, both religious and medical specialists are unanimous in advising parents not to force their children, who have not reached the appropriate age and are not strong enough, to practise fasting.
According to Islam, a child is not required to do the obligatory duties of Islam, including fasting, until he or she enters puberty. It is also not medically recommended for the small children who are not capable of fasting.
However, religious and medical specialists are on the same page when it comes to familiarising them with fasting and preparing them before that age.
Dr Munnu Zain Muneer, a general practitioner at Atlas Hospital, told the Times of Oman that it is not recommended for small children, who have not reached the correct age, to fast for long hours.
Not having food and water can result in some complications in children such as dehydration, gastritis, vomiting, low glucose level and other diseases related to the gastrointestinal system, she said. "The effects of these diseases usually last for a while."
When the Times of Oman correspondent visited the hospital, a seven-year-old girl was being treated at the casualty department for complications resulting from fasting. However the hospital staff say that they have not received many such cases over the past years.
Last year, Times of Oman reported that a seven-year-old boy died of dehydration while fasting.
"If a kid insists on fasting, the parents should give him or her a chance to try and see if it can be done or not. But they should not force them to fast," Dr Munnu said.
Fasting has a lot of benefits, including that it makes children more patient and increases their willpower, but many things should be taken into consideration before practicing it, the general practitioner commented.
Dr Munnu added that the matter should be taken more seriously by the parents of kids with weak immune system who get sick frequently, which can be mainly attributed to poor and untimely eating habits.
It usually happens in families with working parents, Muneer said.
'Laud fasting children'
She added that those children who are interested in fasting should eat healthy meals during suhoor, including lots of fruits and water to avoid dehydration. Dr Munnu also said that they should avoid oily and spicy food.
Hilal Al Rashdi, an adviser at the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, said that religious figures encourage parents to start introducing their children to God and His blessings and the need to worship Him at the age of six.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Al Rashdi said that children become more aware of religious matters through their parents who are preached at mosques and also at nurseries and Quran schools.
"So when Ramadan approaches, they become excited and want to know more about it. Many of them eagerly wait for the sighting of the moon. So when they see their parents and elder brothers and sisters fasting, they do not want to be left behind.
"We advise them to start practising fasting from the age of seven and tell them to keep their fast for as many hours as they can," he said.
He added, "It depends on their capability. We urge parents not to force their children but to encourage them."
Those children who fast should be praised and rewarded, he added.
Fasting, one of the pillars of Islam, becomes obligatory for Muslims when they reach puberty, which usually takes place at age nine for girls and 15 for boys. Al Rashdi says that the puberty age varies from person to person.
Saad Sulaiman Al Kindi from the same ministry also said that parents should not make it mandatory for small children to fast but should encourage them to try.
He added that those children who have not reached the appropriate age but are interested in experiencing fasting can keep their fast until Dhuhr prayer time, then break their fast, and again observe a second fasting period until sunset. It is practised in some families here in Oman, Al Kindi said.
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