Sunrise and Sunset: What You Might Not Know

Image Credit: AlanC (Morguefile.com)

One of the greatest things about reading and understanding the Quran is that it contains so many less-known facts that not just children, but even grown-ups are probably not aware of. The Quranic gem that we will explore with our children today is about one of those fascinating facts.

Is everyone ready for today’s gem? Awesome! Bismillaah 🙂

Okay, so we all know that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, right?

When children learn about this however, they might imagine that there’s one fixed point in the east where the sun always rises, and another fixed point in the west where it always sets. But guess what? That’s actually not the case! At least, not everyday.

Allah has mentioned this wondrous fact in Surah no. 70 in the Quran, Surah Al-Ma’aarij:

So I swear by the Lord of the easts and the wests that indeed We are able.” (Surah Al-Ma’aarij: 40)

So what do these “easts” and “wests” exactly mean? How can there be more than one east and more than one west?

Now this is where it gets interesting.

Here’s how it works. There is one point in the east referred to as “due east” and another point in the west known as “due west”.  I would use the term “real east” and “real west” when explaining this to children for easy understanding.

But do you know that there are only two days in one year that the sun actually rises in the “real east” and sets in the “real west”? These days are known as the “equinox”.

On other days, the points where the sun rises and sets change slightly! This means that the sun can rise a little north or a little south to “due east” and sets a little north or a little south of “due west”. So the “easts” and “wests” that Allah talks about in the above verse of Surah Al-Ma’aarij refer to these different points that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west each day.

[Note: There are different reading materials and websites that discuss this in detail, but for younger kids, I think it’s sufficient to understand the fact that there are different points at which the sun rises and sets every day.]

In some places, this phenomenon can be seen more clearly than in other places. The people who live in these places can actually notice the different points that the sun rises/sets each day, especially in higher places. Amazing isn’t it? SubhaanAllah.

Now here’s what you can do with your kids to explore more about this interesting phenomenon:

The Astronomy Magazine has suggested one interesting activity to observe the changing position of the Sun. Click here to check it out. The phenomenon would be more clear if the period is observation is longer (several weeks or months, for instance).

Make sure to take safety measures such as not to look directly at the sun, and choose a safe place as your observation spot!

Happy learning!

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Let The Stars Show You The Way!

Image Credit: kamuelaboy (Morguefile.com)

Assalaamu’alaikum dear readers!

Hope everyone had a fun, wonderful Eid with your loved ones :). I know we’re all missing Ramadan dearly, so may Allah ‘azza wa jall grant us the patience and persistence to continue doing the good deeds we did during Ramadan.

Alhamdulillah, after quite a long break, Gems for Juniors is now back with our precious (and I hope long-awaited!) Quranic gems.

Before we get into our Quranic gem, let me ask you this: does your family like traveling? Well, mine certainly does!

I don’t know about you, but I think part of the fun when traveling is searching for directions – figuring out where we are, learning about the route we’re taking, and knowing the exact location of our destination (and, well…maybe getting lost along the way, once in a while, hehe). My eldest child has always been interested in maps, signboards and finding directions too.

Nowadays, technology has made finding direction to your destination a breeze. Even our small children know how GPS technology works. But next time you and your family go on a trip, ask your children this: have they ever thought about how people in the past, many many centuries ago, find their direction? Or, what if they got lost in the dark? Not only there was no GPS, there was no compass and probably no maps to guide them either!

Now, this brings us to our first post-Ramadan gem! 🙂

It is He Who has made the stars for you, that you may guide yourselves, with their help, through the dark spaces of land and sea. We detail Our signs for people who think.” (Al-An’aam:97)

SubhaanAllah. Isn’t that just cool?

Long, long ago, travelers on land and on sea relied on stars to know where they were and where they were going, by using certain measurement techniques. That was how they avoided getting lost in the huge desert or in the middle of the ocean. This method is known as “celestial navigation”. It was mostly used by sailors.

A “constellation” is a group of stars that appear to form a certain pattern in the sky. Recognizing these patterns make it easier to spot the stars and use them for navigation. One star that is often used as a reference point is Polaris, also known as the North Star.

You will find a link below that you and your children can refer to for further reading on this topic. It’s pretty interesting, mashaAllah.

Now after learning about this, spend a brief moment with your children to ponder and reflect. Tell them that the amazing beauty they see in the sky is none other than Allah’s brilliant design. Allah is the One that gives the shape and beauty in His creation.

Activities:

  • Encourage your children to develop a habit of saying “Subhaanallah” to express their awe when looking at Allah’s creation.
  • Learn about one of the beautiful Names of Allah, Al-Musawwir. Find out what it means and the lessons that we can learn from this particular name of Allah. Relate it with what your children have previously learned about stars and other objects in the sky.
  • Choose a night to do star gazing with your family. Let you children observe the sky and see it moving! You don’t even need expensive stargazing equipment to do this.
  • Print a sky map (available at http://www.kidsastronomy.com/astroskymap/constellations.htm) and put it up on the wall in your children’s room or the study.
  • Explore the history of navigation in detail here. The page details the background of navigation, starting from the earliest method used until the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS). I would recommend this reading for older kids.

Even with the advanced technology that is available today, I would say it’s definitely a lot more fun to navigate using the stars, don’t you think? Happy star-gazing! 🙂

You Don’t Want To Miss This

As we were eating our suhoor meal today morning, I realized how fast time flies. We’re on the 22nd day of Ramadan already. Subhaanallah.

Anyway, I hope the Ramadan mood is still alive and strong in our homes and among our families, inshaAllah :).

With all the hype and excitement about the Eid celebration and preparation, it’s easy to overlook the importance of these last days of Ramadan. If you find that you and your family are caught in the “Eid hype” too, don’t worry, there is more than a week left of Ramadan for us to cherish! And in these last 10 days, there’s one very, very special night that you really don’t want to miss.

It’s the Night of Qadr, or Laylatul Qadr.

Verily, We have sent it (the Quran) down in the Night of Decree. And what will make you know what the Night of Decree is? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. Therein descend the angels and the Ruh (Jibreel) by Allah’s Permission with all Decrees. Peace! Until the appearance of dawn.” (Al-Qadr: 1-5)

A night that is better than a thousand months (yes, that’s more than 83 years!). What does this mean? Well, imagine, if we are blessed to perform ‘ibaadah on this night, the value is as if we’ve been engaged in that ‘ibaadah for 83 years!

If last Ramadan (and the previous ones, perhaps), we focused mainly on our own good deeds and ‘ibaadah (which is awesome mashaAllah) why not make it a little different this year? Why not, in addition to increasing our ‘ibaadah and good deeds, we invite our kids to share the excitement about Laylatul Qadr too?

I have explained Laylatul Qadr to my son since the beginning of Ramadan, so that he’s aware of how special it is, and that there’s something that we all look forward to every time Ramadan comes (in fact, just knowing how special Laylatul Qadr is, I wish my 2-year-old daughter understands it too!). Just as children are often excited that Eid is coming up, wouldn’t it be even better if they’re excited about this particular night too?

Just because our children can’t stay up all night doing ‘ibaadah (and realistically, we can’t expect them to), it doesn’t mean that we can’t make them understand the significance of this night and why Laylatul Qadr is something nobody would want to miss.

They’ll be thrilled just knowing that the angels are all around!

So, how do we know when is Laylatul Qadr?

Aisha r.a narrated: “Rasulullah SAW used to practice I’tikaaf in the last ten nights and say ‘Seek out Laylatul Qadr in the (odd nights) of the last ten days of Ramadhan’.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Tell your kids that Laylatul Qadr is a really cool mystery! But we have a little clue on when it’s going to happen, based on what Rasulullah SAW told us in the above hadith. However, the most important thing is to make sure that we increase our good deeds every night of these last ten nights.

Build up the excitement around Laylatul Qadr during these last ten nights of Ramadan with the following activities:

  • Teach our children the following du’a: “Allaahumma innaka afuwwun, tuhibbul ‘afwa, fa’fu ‘annee” (Translation: Ya Allah, You are Forgiving and You love forgiveness, so forgive me). This is the supplication that Rasulullah SAW taught us to recite on Laylatul Qadr. Therefore we should recite this du’a especially during the last ten nights of Ramadan.
  • Memorize and read the tafseer of Surah Al-Qadr
  • Du’a List – Ask your children to make their own du’a list for these last 10 nights. Also, encourage them to make du’a for others. Let them list down the people that they want to make du’a for. Remember, one of the greatest things we can do is making sincere du’a for other people in their absence, and when we do, the angel will say “Ameen, may it be for you too.” How AWESOME is that!
  • I’tikaf@Home – Put up an indoor tent for the kids to “camp” in. This is a good way to introduce the concept of i’tikaf to our children. You can let them read the Quran and also keep books, their du’a list, blankets and snacks in the tent. Make it something exciting! InshaAllah, they will remember this experience when they grow up and are old enough to perform actual i’tikaf :).

May we all find this precious night of al-Qadr, may Allah grant us the opportunity to perform ‘ibaadah to our best capacity on this special night and may He forgive all of our sins, past and present. Ameen!

Give, and Get Much, Much More

I was just having a conversation with my 6-year-old earlier today about generosity and the act of giving to others.  He knows basically what giving sadaqah (charity) means, but I thought that since it’s Ramadan, and giving sadaqah is one of the greatest ‘ibaadah (act of worship) that we’re encouraged to do in this blessed month, it was a perfect time to discuss more about it with him.

Sadaqah is probably one of the simplest ‘ibaadah that we can explain and demonstrate to our children. They would usually understand when we tell them that we help the poor because they are in need of money, food, clothing etc.

But really, sadaqah would mean so much more to our children if they know that not only would they help others and make them happy, but Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aala has promised bountiful rewards to those who give to others.

The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn); it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to who He pleases. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.

(Al- Baqarah: 261)

Read the above verse and its translation with your children and do a little math together :).

1 x 7 x 100 = 700!

Yes! That’s a 700 times reward for whatever you spend in the way of Allah. Allahu Akbar!

How do we give sadaqah?

O you who believe, you shall give to charity from the good things you earn, and from what we have produced for you from the earth. Do not pick out the bad therein to give away, when you yourselves do not accept it unless your eyes are closed.You should know that Allah is Rich, Praiseworthy.

(Al-Baqarah: 267)

The above verse contains a very important lesson for children.

We shouldn’t give others things are already bad, worn out, broken, or have any defects that we wouldn’t want to have for ourselves. Our children need to be taught this as well. So if they have toys to give away, for instance, ask them to choose the ones that are still good. If they want to give away some of their books, ask them to make sure the pages aren’t dirty, smudgy or torn. The same goes with clothes, blankets and others.

Remind them that the more beloved something is to them, the better it is when they can make other people happy by giving it away.

Who give to charity during ease and hardship, and who restrain anger and pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good.

(Ali-Imran: 134)

This is what I tried to emphasize to my son – that we don’t only give to others when we “have a lot of money” (because one time he said something like, “So when we have lots and lots of money we can help people!”). What and how much we give to others is based on what we can afford. Contrary to what many people think, we don’t have to be rich and wealthy to help others. Even when we ourselves are in a hard condition, there always has to be a way to give charity, no matter what it is and how small the amount.

Also, don’t forget to highlight the fact that Allah loves people who do good, as clearly mentioned in the above verse of Surah Ali-Imran.

Okay, how do we start? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sadaqah Jar/Box: Make a sadaqah jar or box at home and decorate it to make it look extra special. You can either make one for the entire family or let your child have their own sadaqah jar or box for them to put some cash or loose change inside. For Ramadan, maybe you can ask them to put in money each day and make it a goal to give as much sadaqa as they can. Check out this post to learn how to make an easy DIY Sadaqa Jar.
  • Choose one day to be a “Sadaqah Day”. You can do this weekly, bi-weekly, or as regular as you want, but let them consider that particular day a special day. On this day, you can take your children out to give donations to poor and homeless people, orphanages or even travelers if you meet them. These are the people to whom we are encouraged to give charity to. You can distribute water, dates, food, desserts – the list is endless!
  • “A Smile is Sadaqah” poster – When we talk about Sadaqah, our children would normally think about giving money and other material things to help people. We shouldn’t forget to teach them that Rasulullaah salallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam told us that smiling is considered sadaqah too! So you can ask your children to make a poster that they can put up on the wall to remind them that smiling is sadaqah. Let them use their own creativity.
  • Read this hadith together:

Abu Dhar reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Your smile to your brother is a sadaqah (charitable act) for you. Your commanding the right and forbidding the wrong is a sadaqah.  Your guiding a man in the land of misguidance is a sadaqah for you. Your seeing (showing the way) for a man with bad eyesight is a sadaqah for you. Your removing a stone or thorn or bone from the road is a sadaqah for you. Your emptying your bucket of water into your brother’s (empty) bucket is a sadaqah for you.”  

[Tirmidhi]

This hadith helps to make it clear to our children that sadaqah is not just limited to giving money to help people, but can also be done in other ways.

*      *     *     *     *

Don’t forget to make lots and lots of du’a that our children will be among those who love to help people, and inshaAllah, they will realize that a small act of kindness goes a long way. May Allah accept their sadaqah as well as ours, ameen!

The Best Book Ever!

Wow, subhaanAllah how time flies. We’re about to enter the second week of the blessed month of Ramadan already! I just feel like it started yesterday. Anyway, hopefully everyone’s momentum is still as high as it was on the first day and may Allah make it easy for us to perform our best in our ‘ibaadah and encourage our children to do the same, ameen!

The month of Ramadan is almost synonymous to the Quran. It’s the time of the year where you can see Quran reading/study circles and halaqahs everywhere, mashaAllah. As parents, we shouldn’t lose the advantage of this month to get our children to build a closer, stronger relationship with the Quran.

But why is this extra important, especially in Ramadan?

Well, let’s look at our next Quranic gem, taken from Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 185.

The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion…” (Al-Baqarah:185)

It’s definitely important to teach our kids that the Quran is a very, very special book, but it’s also important to give them a background about the revelation of the Quran. This would help them see why the Quran is really special, that it is the Word of Allah, and unlike a normal book, the Quran is not written by a human being. Since Ramadan IS the month in which the Quran was first revealed, it’s the perfect time to teach our children about its revelation.

Let’s begin with some basic information that we can explain to our children:

When was the Quran revealed?

The Quran was revealed on the 17th of Ramadan, 13 years before Rasulullah sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam migrated to Madinah. So besides the fact that Muslims fast during this month, this is another reason why the month of Ramadan is very special to us.

Where was the Quran first revealed?

The first verses of the Quran was revealed when Rasululullah SAW was inside the Cave of Hira’.

How was the Quran revealed?

Allah revealed the Quran to Prophet Muhammad SAW through his angel, Jibreel ‘alayhissalaam. The Quran was not sent to the Prophet all at once, instead it was sent in parts over a period of 23 years.

What were the first verses revealed to the Prophet?

The first verses are from Surah Al-‘Alaq (the 96th chapter of the Quran), verses 1 to 5 (read these verses and their translation with your children). The entire Quran consists of 114 chapters/surahs.

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Okay, now how about going over a few facts about how AWESOME the Quran is? Let’s amaze our kids. 😉

  • The Quran contains so many amazing facts and information that humans only discovered much, much later. Check out some of these facts in our previous gems!
  • Allah ‘azza wa jall says that the Quran will be protected until the Day of Judgment. This means that the message in the Quran can never be corrupted or altered.
  • The Quran will intercede for people who recite it on the Day of Judgment. (Another reason why we should read Quran more!)
  • The Quran contains many stories of the prophets as well as people who lived in the earlier times. These stories have many great lessons for us to learn from.
  • Reading each letter of the Quran rewards us with 10 hasanaat. Imagine how much hasanaat we can gain if we read Quran every single day!
  • It’s the only book/scripture that has been memorized by millions of people. There are millions of huffaadh (people who have memorized the Quran) all over the world!

Isn’t that just amazing? Now, let me share a few Quran-themed activities that you can engage your kids in.

  • Set an “Iqra’ Time” where your children can read a few verses from the Quran with you every day. Ramadan is a great time to start (if you haven’t already), but this should also be a continuous activity outside Ramadan as well.
  • Quranic Gems Jar – Write a lesson/gem from selected Quranic verses on different slips of paper and place them in a jar. Ask your children to pick out a slip each day and discuss about it together. Talk about how they can implement that particular lesson in their lives.
  • Choose a story from the Quran and make an art/craft piece based on it. For instance, if you choose the story of Prophet Nuh ‘alayhissalaam, you can ask your kids to build an ark from manila paper, kraft paper or popsicle sticks. If you choose the story of the people of the cave (Surah Al-Kahf), you can ask them to build a cave using clay or Play-Doh. As usual, be creative! 🙂
  • As part of their Ramadan goal, encourage your children to aim to memorize at least one or two surahs this Ramadan.

Hopefully our children will develop a strong bond with the Quran starting this Ramadan and may it continue in the future, inshaAllah. Stay tuned for the next Ramadan Special Quranic Gem!

Our Blessed Guest Is Here!

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

Alhamdulillah, the month that we’ve all been waiting for is here. Subhaanallah, isn’t it amazing how the entire atmosphere feels so beautiful and different when it’s Ramadan?

My son and I had been doing a Ramadan count down since a week before Ramadan. I could see that it really helped to build the anticipation and excitement in him, Alhamdulillah.

So, for our first Ramadan Special Quranic Gem, we’ll start with the ayah in Surah Al-Baqarah that I think sums up the act of fasting:

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become righteous.” (Al-Baqarah: 183).

This is a very well-known verse among the Muslims whenever we talk about Ramadan and fasting. For children, this verse contains a very significant point: the reason why Muslims have to fast in the first place.

If you haven’t explored the 5 Pillars of Islam with your children, this is a great time to start. It’s definitely easier when they begin to understand that fasting is one of these five pillars. Just like how a pillar is very important to support a building, fasting is also very important in Islam.

In the above verse, Allah tells us that we are asked to fast so that we can attain righteousness.

Now righteousness, or “taqwa” in Arabic, isn’t the easiest concept to explain to children. But one easy way to explain this is to tell our children that taqwa is about being aware of what Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aala asks us to do, as well as forbids us to do.

One of the ways I try to teach my son about this concept is by emphasizing the fact that Allah knows and sees everything that we do all the time, no matter where we are, and even if no one else sees us. That is why as a Muslim, we should always think about doing things that please Allah, and fasting is one of them.

For the beginning of Ramadan, let’s look at a few activities that we can do to familiarize our children with this blessed month.

  1. Pillars of Islam Art. I found this wonderful idea to teach my son about the 5 Pillars of Islam a few years back. You can work on this together with your kids!
  2. Learn more about moon sighting from this very interesting video. I think it’s a great, entertaining way to introduce our children to moon sighting. (My kids love Zaky videos, by the way!)
  3. “My Ramadan Vocabulary List”. There are terms that we often associate with Ramadan that might be new to our children, such as Iftar, Suhoor, Taraweeh, Laylatul Qadr, Qiyaam and Zakaat for instance. Ask your children to make a special vocab list this Ramadan and write down the meaning of each of these terms.
  4. Ramadan Mind Map. Mind mapping is a great learning tool for all ages. Build a mind map with your children. Include things such as the time of fasting, benefits of fasting, good deeds during Ramadan, etc. Encourage them to use their creativity. Let them include pictures, stickers, or anything else to make their mind map more attractive.

Enjoy these activities, have a blessed Ramadan and don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Ramadan Special Quranic Gem!

The White Cotton Candy In the Sky

I think one of the most fascinating sights in nature is the sight of clouds. This, when coupled with a child’s creative imagination, can actually get even more interesting. Children often give “names” to the clouds – this one looks like a teddy bear, that one looks like a dinosaur and oh, that one over there looks like a car! (The one in the above picture looks like a duck, I think!)

As they continue to be amazed at the fascinating sight of that beautiful white cotton candy in the sky, ask your children this: have you ever wondered how that “teddy bear”, “dinosaur” or “car” is formed?

Well, guess what? The answer is in the Quran!

Allah tells us about the formation of cloud in Surah An-Nur, where He says:

“Do you not see that Allah drives the clouds? Then He joins them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it…” (An-Nur:43)

Meteorologists (scientists who study the atmosphere) have actually studied the formation of clouds and the studies have proven this fact. For example, the cumulonimbus cloud (one type of cloud that brings rain) is formed through a few steps, until it eventually produces rain:

  • The wind drives small pieces of clouds from different areas to an area where these small pieces meet.
  • When these small pieces of clouds meet, they join together and start forming a larger cloud.
  • Then, they start “stacking up” and this larger piece of cloud will grow bigger and higher. As the cloud stack up higher and higher, it will reach a cooler area in the atmosphere and this is where drops of water start to form. The cloud eventually becomes heavier and the water will fall from the cloud as rain.

(By the way, if you missed the post about rain, you can read it here.)

Subhanallah, how amazing is that!

So that teddy bear, flower, cat or ice-cream cloud doesn’t pop out in the sky just like that. 🙂

It’s actually the wind that Allah has sent that pushes small pieces of cloud together and causes them to form all those different, interesting shapes!

Okay, now let’s look at some fun activities that you and your children can work on together:

  • Read about the different types of cloud here. Make a few columns on a piece of paper (one for each type of cloud) and ask your children to list down the characteristics of each type. See if they can identify them when they see the clouds outside.
  • “Cloud Blowing” activity: This will help demonstrate how wind drives the cloud from one place to another. Put a few pieces of cotton balls at different spots on the table. These will be your small pieces of cloud. Ask your child to blow these small pieces of cotton ball (you can use drinking straws to do this) to make them join together and form a larger “cloud”.
  • Cotton Clouds on Blue Sky Art: You will need a piece of blue paper, cotton balls and glue to do this. Ask your children to put glue on the paper and group the cotton balls together to form different shapes to represent the different types of clouds that they have read in step (1). Ask them to label each type.
  • Yummy Clouds – As the final activity, enjoy yummy halal marshmallows for snack time! 🙂