The holy month of Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims
around the world fast between sunrise and sunset, focusing their energies on
purifying their souls for Allah through sacrifice.
The Garden of My Imaan, page 69
by Farhana Zia
With Ramadan beginning, we invited author of The Garden of My Imaan, Farhana Zia to share both about her book and the traditions of Ramadan.
First, for those who aren't familiar, could
you tell our readers what Ramadan
is about and its significance?
Ramadaan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
It is believed that the Koran, the holy
scripture of Muslims, was revealed to Prophet Muhammed during this month. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of
the five pillars (religious practices) of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual
sightings of the crescent moon. Fasting during
Ramadan is obligatory for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, unable to
fast due to medical reasons, traveling, pregnant, or menstruating.
During the course of the fast
that lasts from dawn to sunset, Muslims abstain from consuming food and drinking
liquids. Smoking and engaging in sexual
relations are also prohibited. They
prepare for the fast by eating a meal before sunrise and they break the daily
fast at sunset. Eid ul Fitr is the
celebration at the end of Ramadan when families and friends gather together to
celebrate their personal success. Children
look forward to getting presents.
Muslims will tell you that Ramadan is more than just about giving up
food and water temporarily. It is more about self purification, personal
introspection and self growth. Ramadan is a time when one can seriously work to
repair one’s relationship with one’s creator. This is mostly why Muslim
actually look forward to the month of Ramadan!
How did the storyline of The Garden of My Imaan evolve during the
writing process? Did you always plan on writing about Ramadan/setting the story during Ramadan?
My journey with The Garden of my Imaan was pretty circuitous. I originally intended merely to pay homage to what I thought was a very creative
take on Eid celebration (the celebration that comes at the end of Ramadan) I
had happened to observe, by writing a story about an Eid garden—a Muslim version of Christmas tree, if you will. Needless to say, things changed. My original idea of a picture book grew into the
present chapter book with an expanding story line that started to take on larger
issues. Still, at the root of an altered
story, was the persistent idea of Eid ul Fitr, an important celebration for Muslims. But if one is to write
about Eid, one needs to write about
the reasons for Eid and thus, the
focus on Ramadan. Ramadan is an
important month for observant Muslims and while technically it is about
abstaining from food between the hours of sunrise and sunset, it’s actually about
worship and spiritual cleansing and rejuvenation. In its truest sense, the greatest challenge
in Ramadan is not giving up food and water but improving oneself as a human
being. And so, the story of Ramadan
became the perfect vehicle to show Aliya’s personal journey toward self-growth.
I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose Ramadan and
Thanksgiving to show both sides of Aliya— her Muslim side, as well as her
American side. But this was a little
tricky since Ramadan which is based on the 12 month lunar calendar does not
always fall in the November. But a feature of the Islamic lunar calendar
is that the months (approximately 29 – 29.5 days) drift each solar year by 11
to 12 days and every so often the calendar comes back to the position it had in
relation to a solar year. Another
important point I wanted to get across was that while Ramadan is about
abstaining from food and Thanksgiving, is about food, both observances expect
a turning to the divine with humility and gratitude.
Did your own childhood/family
experiences influence your writing?
I think that one’s experiences,
whether direct or vicarious, are generally at the root of one’s writing. I personally feel that the best writing
arises out of some form of emotional connection with the subject. My picture book, Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji is an example of how both personal
as well as observed cultural experiences worked collectively to shape a story
line. When I wrote it, I was thinking
primarily of things immediately and familiarly Indian and so food,
inter-generational family arrangements and storytelling jumped out naturally.
Memories of my grandmother telling stories, the remembered smell of the incense
stick, the sights and sounds of roti making, multi-generation relatives
interacting on a daily basis…those were the experiences that came into play
into the writing of that book.
The earliest version of The
Garden of my Imaan drew more heavily from family experiences than the
present version does. Still, certain
anecdotes that appear in the story, such as the one about Aliya unwittingly breaking
her fast, came out of personal experience and even as I say that, I’m sure that
many young Muslim readers will claim it as their own experience and perhaps get
a chuckle out of it. The
Thoroughly-Mixed-up Turkey chapter is another place where familiar experiences
played a part. But what’s most meaningful to me in the book is the sense of
family as illustrated by the Aliya-Amma-Badi Amma relationship. There is no way one can put a price on
it. One can only hope that others are
fortunate enough to experience it and reap its rich benefits.
What do you hope readers will take away from Aliya's story?
be great to hear that readers enjoyed the book and talked about it and
As far as what I hope they will take away from
the story, several things come to mind. First
of all, there is a subtle message at the heart of Aliya’s story and this is
what it is: what lies at our core
determines who we are. Marwa has an identifiable core that makes her stronger,
more intact as a person and ultimately a little more sure of herself. We can
all hope to work on our inner core (our value system) so we are able to walk with
surety, and with our head held high. It might be ambitious on my part, but
still, this is what I hope readers will take away with them.
is another message that I hope will be useful.
It’s especially pertinent in a society that’s increasingly multicultural.
We try to impart this message to our youngsters but we need to state it over
and over again: Search out the
similarity in others but also respect them for their difference.
Aliya’s story could be the story of any girl
her age treading some choppy waters and navigating some bumps along the
way. Readers will recognize themselves
in her as perhaps they too have tried at times to fit in or be included. Perhaps they too have had a run in with a
bully. I hope then that they will see
Aliya’s struggles as their struggle and be on her side and cheer her on as she works
to resolve her issues and find her bearing.
we first meet Aliya she is tentative but with time she grows more self
assured. I tried to speak to the inner
strength that we all possess in varying degrees. I hope the story will be uplifting as it is
about faith in the human potential to do the right thing and walk the path
that’s right for them.
a lot of help along the way. She has a supporting family and good friends. I hope that young readers will see that if
they are enmeshed in problems, there are people around them who can be counted
on for help.
One of the finest
things one can have is a good sense of self.
I hope the readers
will take that away from the book,
if nothing else, and seek out opportunities that will nurture their own self
Finally, I attempted to dispel certain misconceptions
about Muslims and Islam in
the book and I hope readers will see that Muslims come in all skin
tones, ethnicities and degrees of religious fervor and that they are no
different in this from Christians, Jews or Hindus. They are people with similar
aspirations and ambitions as their neighbors. Most of all, I hope the
readers will see that it’s not what’s on our head that matters but what’s in
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts and Ramadan
Mubarak to all Muslim readers.
Farhana Zia is an elementary school teacher
who grew up in Hyderabad, India. Her stories blend humor and
tradition, memories and contemporary moments. Her first picture book, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji received a
starred review from Kirkus.
Labels: Authors, Guest Posts, Holidays, Middle Grades