"I want to start fasting this year during the month of Ramadan" she said with a serious tone of voice, as determined as a five-year-old girl could be. It was their family custom to bring up important issues around the dinner table and it seemed like the little girl was right on the game with her older siblings and her parents.
"Honey, you already fasted last year for three days, didn't you?" replied her mother, hardly able to hide her smile.
"Mom! I don't mean a 'kid's fasting'. I am talking about the real stuff," she said raising her soft voice.
"It is wonderful that you want to fast but you need to grow up some more. Why don't you first try your 'kid's fast' again tomorrow, fast until noon, then have your lunch. I am sure even angels will look down at you with admiration. They will say 'Wow! Such a brave girl! She is only five years old and yet she already fasts for half of the day.'"
Rolling her eyes, she protested to her mother once again:
"Mom I am not a baby anymore! My sister is fasting, my older brother is fasting, you are fasting, and dad is fasting. Everybody is fasting except for my baby brothers and I. Please mom, I can do it, I want to do it, please..."
"Dear, you are a very strong girl, I know, but you see your stomach is still very little. Your hands, your mouth, you are still a little person. You already know that children don't need to fast until they are a lot older. Maybe next year, or the year after you can try to fast a day or two, and when you become a teenager, you'll be fasting the entire Ramadan. But this year you'll only be doing the kid's fast."
As she looked at her little daughter hoping that her words would end the discussion, her heart was overflowing with such a joy and happiness, in the midst of compassion. How proud she was! She uttered a silent little prayer inside, "My little angel, O my dear Lord, please keep the love of worship and devotion overflowing from her heart her entire life with a child-like purity and sincerity, just like now."
As soon as the little girl's dark eyes caught her mother's lips moving, she jump off of her seat. She must have had thought that it was a green light, and that her mother was about to say "yes."
"Great!" she screamed, her face was enlightened with an excitement. Hardly grasping a breath, she continued: "Then you can wake me up for the early morning breakfast before dawn. Then I can have enough food and water and then be prepared for a day of fasting. I am so happy. And then..."
Her mother and father looked at each other, somewhat reluctant, and then her father interrupted her. "Dear, it seems like you are not listening to what your mother is saying. I know you are a brave girl, and your mother told me that your friends have been calling you 'fearless' since the day you challenged them and climbed all the way up to the top of the power pole on the street. I also know you love God, and you want to begin your journey as an obedient servant, and you are excited about your first full fasting, but you are missing something my dear..."
Ready to protest again, her little fingers swayed back and forth over her fork and spoon, and she asked: "What? What is it that I am missing?"
"You also have to be patient. God willing, next year you could try to do one full day of fasting."
About to burst into tears, she mumbled with a barely audible voice:
"I am fasting tomorrow, whether or not you wake me up for the early breakfast. I am ready and I am fasting tomorrow!"
Her older sister sitting next to her couldn't help hearing her murmuring and she whispered into her ears: "Oh, you are more stubborn than a goat!"
As she left the table and went back to her room, she wasn't sure who the winner of the argument was. She climbed up to her bunk bed and closed her eyes tight. She murmured: "Tomorrow will be my first real fasting!"
As soon as she opened her eyes in the morning, she jumped out of bed, almost falling down as she climbed down, and ran to the window. It was already very bright outside. Was it already morning? Had she missed the dawn? Did everybody oversleep? She ran to her parents' room, screaming:
"Mom, dad, wake up! We overslept, we overslept!"
She saw that her father had already gone, and her mother was about to finish her daily reading of the Qur'an.
"Honey," said her mother. "I thought we had reached an agreement last night." She wasn't able to get any answer from her daughter, so she continued: "Our Creator is so merciful that He never asks us to do anything that is more than we can bear, it is not only children, but many adults are also excused from fasting. For instance, do you remember when I had your baby brother, I didn't fast for a while, or when your grandmother got very sick and had to take so many medications, she skipped some days of fasting. When you become old enough and your body gets stronger, I know you will be super cool with your fasting, but now I don't want you to rush into something before you are ready and lose your enthusiasm for later." She was ready to continue but when she saw the tears in her little angel's eyes, she stopped and hugged her: "Okay, okay young lady, let's make an agreement then. You can try and keep your fast as long as you can but it is a summer day, it will be long and very hot so when you get really thirsty, hungry or tired, you can take a few minutes break, then you can continue your fasting. If you forget that you are fasting and eat or drink something, that's okay, that means angels are trying to help you with the blessings from heaven. And don't forget, no matter how you do, I am proud of you."
Finally all the shine and happiness came back to her eyes and the little girl answered: "Deal mom!"
A couple of hours later, she decided to go outside to play. It was really warm outside. She looked around to see if any of her friends were around but she could only see a few shadows from the distance. First she thought about running over to play with them, but then she felt a little tired. Instead, she sat down on the brick pavement.
" I guess I am tired, and it is not even noon yet!" She bent over her stomach and began to chat: "Hey there! How do you feel? Are you hungry?" The only response from her little stomach was a rumbling voice. She smiled and patted herself on the stomach: "Listen, we are growing up today and learning to be patient. Think about all the poor people in the world, they cannot find food most of the time, now do you understand them better?" It seemed like her stomach was convinced and stopped rumbling, she was so proud of herself. With a big smile on her face, she started to watch people passing by on the street.
All of a sudden she heard her favorite sound of summer. A street vendor was calling out: "Snow cones! I have snow cones! Snow cones with all the flavors!" She forgot about everything and quickly checked her pockets. Yes! She had enough money to buy whichever flavor she liked. She rushed to the snow cone vendor and shouted: "Hey, wait! Wait for me! May I have a chocolate flavored snow cone please? You know what, give me the one with lemon and strawberry flavor as well."
The vendor was a dark skinned young man. As he handed her snow cones wrapped with blue papers, he greeted his favorite customer with a big smile: "Look at you! You have grown up a lot since last year."
She giggled and handed the money. She was hardly able to hold all three snow cones in one hand, the weather was so warm that they started to melt and drip all over her hands. She didn't seem to mind, the coolness of the icy drops helped her cool down a little, but it also made her feel her thirst even more. In a hurry as she was trying to unwrap the blue paper from the first one, she noticed the vendor's dark face, now even darker due to walking under the sun trying to sell all the snow cones and his lips were cracked probably because of thirst. She felt so selfish to have all these three snow cones for herself. A little shy and hesitant, she extended one of them to the man and said: "Please have one of them, three is too much for me anyway." The man answered: "You are a generous girl, but thank you, I am fasting." Suddenly, time stopped and she remembered that she also was fasting. "Oh ok," she said nodding her head goodbye to the vendor and headed back to the brick she was sitting on a few minutes ago. With her stomach rumbling, she mumbled: "So am I, so am I!"
As her vendor friend disappeared around the corner, she didn't know how to feel. She looked around, there was no one watching her. Well, nobody would think that she was fasting anyway. Her stomach started rumbling again, her lips felt dryer than ever, her hands were covered with the cool-sweet snow cone drips. She took a deep breath, stood up, and began to run towards to children playing in the distance. As she was running her heart was pounding, the ground under her feet felt like it was slipping away and her lips were constantly moving: "I am fasting, I am fasting. My dear God, I promised you, I am fasting today." As she reached the children, she was gasping for the air and her legs were shaking, she could hardly call out to them: "Hey guys, do you want some snow cones?"
As she walked away from the children enjoying the cool sweet snow cones, her stomach had stopped rumbling, her lips were still dry but wide open with a big smile. Her heartbeat had slowed down and felt like it could fit into it the entire universe. She took her every step with such confidence, she felt like a big oak tree. Her fingers were still sticky and wet, and her lips were still moving: "I am fasting today, I am fasting. I am fasting for the sake of My dear God."
"Excuse me, could you speak a little louder?" With the kind voice of the moderator, she was pulled back from her childhood. It was an interfaith group meeting where people were discussing various faith related topics including their stories in regards to how they shaped them as adults. She must have zoned out in the midst of the last question.
"Oh I'm sorry!" she said, clearing her throat nervously and a little embarrassed. "Where were we?"
As her group-mates smiled at her, the moderator answered:
"So it was your turn. Would you care to share with us your first memory of when you felt the presence of God in your life? It might be very difficult to pin-point, maybe in your teenage years or later? It's okay if you can't recall the exact moment, we are just causally sharing."
She quickly glanced at the wondering faces of her friends. After 20 some years, she could still feel the cold-sugary drips on her hands. With a smile, she took a deep breath before she started to tell her story....
"That's okay, I know exactly what moment it was."
Ayse Kubra Coskun, MD, is currently serving as Vice President of Boston Dialogue Foundation.