Hadia from Mauritania

Ramadan, the month of Quran

My name is Hadia.  I’m from Mauritania. My country is in Africa.
My country has elephants and addax.
It has giraffes and jerboas.
It has camels and cheetahs.


It has flamingoes and hoopoes.


Mauritania is a Muslim country, and today was the first day of Ramadan. I heard voices at night and I smelled food, so I got up and found everyone eating suhoor.
“I want to fast,” I say. Everyone smiles because they think I can’t finish the whole day. Mother says, “Come and eat suhoor, and you can fast until noon.” But I did ten half-days last year and I was only six. I’m older now, and I want to really fast.
“I want to do the whole day, please let me, Mama.”
My sister Ruqia is only three years older than me, but she talks to me like I am a baby: “When I was your age I fasted all of Ramadan. It was easy then because the days were short and it wasn’t this hot. Now even mothers and fathers are finding it hard.” I don’t answer because my mouth is full and I want to drink two glasses of water before the athan of fajr. I think I drink too much, because I feel the water sloshing in my tummy when I pray.
After fajr, Mother is tidying up; Grandfather calls me for our daily reading of Quran. Grandfather was not sitting with them at suhoor. I know that he gives iftar for someone poor every day of Ramadan.
“Bring the Mushaf, Hadia,” he says.
“Yes, Grandfather,” I say respectfully. I go to Mother and ask her in a low voice, “Why doesn’t’ Grandfather fast?”
“Grandfather fasted all his life. Now he is old and sick and he cannot fast.”
“But doesn’t he feel sad that he can’t?”
Mother smiles but her eyes do not, “Go read Quran with him, he is waiting,” she says.
My Grandfather has white hair. He wears thick glasses and always smells of soap. I sit next to him and place the Quran on the open stand. I have memorized all of the small surahs in Juz’ Amma and even most of the long ones. I know all of surat Amma perfectly, but I can’t learn al Bayyinah. I wish al Bayyinah was not in this Juz’. My Grandfather opens up the Quran.
“Shall I recite Amma?” I ask
“No,” he says looking at me over his glasses. “I want to hear al Bayyinah.”
Al Bayyinah is a very difficult surah, but I begin to recite it for Grandfather, and of course I get mixed up halfway through. Grandfather asks me, “Hadia, do you know what Ramadan is all about?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” I say, “it is about fasting.” Then I’m sorry I said that because I know he doesn’t fast and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
“Yes,” he says gently, “but Ramadan is also called the month of Quran and it is also called the month of patience: sabr. You need sabr to not eat and drink when you are fasting and you also need sabr to force yourself to do the things that are hard or not fun to do. Do you know how I memorized the Quran when I was a little boy?”
“How, Jiddo?” I ask trying to imagine him as a little boy.
“By writing it,” he says. “Every child had some kind of ‘lowh’ to write on – a piece of wood, a slate, a flat thin stone – and chalk. We wrote and erased and wrote and erased until we learned the ayahs by heart.”
I think about what Grandfather said. I know what he is talking about. Father keeps his father’s lowh in his closet. He showed it to me once. I ask Father if I can borrow it and tell him why I want it.
I spend most of the day writing Al Bayyinah and erasing it aya by aya. It’s fun. I pretend I am a little girl from long ago. I find fasting is not so hard if you are busy, but I am not so good at sabr. I take a nap after Asr and then, before I know it, it is time for iftar. I am so thirsty and weak, but I help bring out the food. When I hear the adhan, I drink and drink. Everyone is kissing me and congratulating me on my first whole day. Make dua, make dua they say. I make dua’ that I can learn patience. I make dua’ that I can learn the whole Quran like my grandfather. I no longer worry about Al Bayyinah. I think I will learn it very soon!