Aliya’s Secret: A Story of Ramadan by Farida Zaman (OwlKids Books, October 2023) is a window into the world of one girl excited about Ramadan and eager to celebrate with a daily fast, just as her parents fast. When her parents discourage her from fasting all day, she decides to fast in secret, but it is much harder than she thinks! She learns, though, that there are many ways to celebrate Ramadan, and fasting is just one of them.
Fasting is a regular part of my Christian religion. It is not assigned in a specified way or time but encouraged as a voluntary way to sacrifice physically in order to feel closer to God. I try to fast once a month, and I’ll admit that even I am not always able to do so for an entire day! There have also been years in my life when I was pregnant or fasting or otherwise unable to do so. I could really relate to Aliya’s feelings, both as she was secretly fasting (and feeling upset about the hunger pains) and as she was told she was excused from fasting. She was so disappointed that she had tasted a bite when she wanted to be fasting! I have had a few of those “oops!” moments in my life too, even as a grown-up.
I loved how Aliya’s Secret presented Ramadan as a completely natural part of life. Aliya’s friends come to celebrate Ramadan with lots of yummy treats, and they wear bangles and decorate their hands with henna. In the first classroom scene, the narration reads “Aliya’s class learns about Ramadan.” On the page, Aliya stands at the front of the room with a large card that says, “Happy Ramadan.” One child already new what fasting means. The classroom is also decorated with stars and crescent moons. I don’t know if this means that the class had a full lesson about Ramadan or if it has been discussed because Aliya was eager to do so. But, either way, there is no “othering” in this book, only inclusion and diversity. I loved that!
(I homeschool, so I’m not sure if, in my community, Ramadan would be mentioned if there was not an Islamic student in the class. I’d like to think that we live in such a world where this type of understanding occurs, and non-Christian holy days were at least acknowledged, if not studied.)
I recommend Aliya’s Secret to all children to get this glimpse into Ramadan for one young child. I’m sure many can relate, if not from a religious perspective then certainly from a “I want to join in but I can’t!” perspective. Essentially, though, Aliya’s Secret gives the reader a positive glimpse of the beautiful religion that is Islam.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.