Moral dilemma: Corporal Works of Mercy vs. Ramadan, friendships with Muslims

My children are friends with the neighbor children. We are devout Catholic and they are devout Muslim. Our neighbors just completed Ramadan, a month during which they do not eat or drink anything, even water, while the sun is up. That is about 14+ hours of no food or water, even for the children. The children are permitted to play outside, but may not refresh themselves if they get overheated (showers and water play are also prohibited).

During the middle of Ramadan, one of the neighbor children, only 8yo, came to ask my oldest for a glass of water because she was so thirsty. My daughter was upset because she knows that it is a work of mercy to give drink to the thirsty, but she also knew that her friend might get in trouble if her parents found out she drank water secretly. My daughter told her that she couldn’t because it would get her friend in trouble, but ever since she has been troubled by her choice to let her friend go thirsty that day. She feels she failed a spiritual test. I have reassured her, telling her that she put the longer term good of her friend’s obedience to her parents, despite their false religion, ahead of her own desire to perform a work of mercy. I am upset that she was put in this situation in the first place, but what is done is done.

My question is: what is the action most pleasing to Our Lord in this situation? Validity of religion aside, if a parent instructs a child to drink no water, but the child is so thirsty she begs water from a Christian neighbor, what should the neighbor do?

P.S. I am posting this question at her request. I will not allow her to read the thread but I will be sharing with her any perspectives that I think will help her come to terms with this dilemma.

If you are going to call their religion “false” be prepared for them to say the same to you.
For your daughter to be a good Christian, she should respect their traditions. They can (and will) learn about Christianity by her personal holiness.
If the both of you really believed that she was at risk you could call 911.
I see it as a learning opportunity. Not everyone worships the way we do.

This is tricky. Muslim children are **not **required to fast during Ramadan until puberty, certainly not at eight, and there is good reason for that; their bodies do not function as adults’ do, and it can be harmful to them, especially doing without water. Some parents encourage their children to fast for part of a day, but it is not required by their religion.

So your poor DD was faced with an extremely difficult situation. Leaving the religious concept out of it since children may have water, do parents have a right to order their children to do what may be harmful to themselves and do children have an obligation to obey those orders?

The only solution that occurs to me would be to give the child water myself, and then call the parents explain what I did, and say that I had insisted that the child take a drink because you feared she might become overheated/dehydrated, and you didn’t think they would mind since you knew you were following their religious beliefs.

I don’t know the rules of Islam, but I do know that in Judaism on a fast day such as Yom Kippur, if a child’s or adult’s life or health is in danger due to fasting, including not drinking liquids, they are REQUIRED to eat and drink. Preserving life always comes first. It may be the same in Islam. In either case, I would respect the wishes of her parents UNLESS it is felt the child’s health or life is being jeopardized.


It’s a tricky situation and I’ll need to reflect on it more before I can say definitively what I would recommend, but here is my inclination:

I think we have an obligation to minister to the needs of others, and I believe children need to drink water during hot summer days. I think for a parent to deprive his or her child something basic like water, even in the name of religion, is sinful. So these parents, although well-intentioned (trying to instill a love of God and a sense of repentance in their children), were not within their rights to require that the child abstain from drinking water. And, as a previous poster pointed out, I don’t believe Islam requires children to keep the Ramadam fast anyway, though they are sometimes encouraged to participate in other ways.

I am all about freedom of religion. I think how we approach other religions needs to be informed by Truth. If another religion practiced something we considered obviously abusive (child sacrifice, to take an extreme example), we would not hesitate to condemn it.

So that’s my reasoning and that’s why I feel it would be most loving in that situation to give the child something to drink. That said, it is not the responsibility of your child to weigh all these factors and make such a heavy decision by herself. I think she showed great courage in recommending that her friend keep the fast. I think you are right to console her and to encourage her to come to you if she ever faces such a dilemma again. Then you can be the one to take responsibility for acting or not.

God bless.

If the child has been running around and really really need replenishment of water, then call the parents first. If you can’t get them, then just let the child drink and explain later that you have tried to call them, but couldn’t get them. These things may be very sensitive for some people and can cause serious rift among neighbours. If the child has been playing dolls, indoor, she wouldn’t die of thirst, then get her spirit up to continue her fasting until the parent’s pick her up (depend also on how long the waiting time).
Fasting is a good training for our soul.

This is true to the extent that you believe it is not harmful for a child to go without water for a day. Certainly if the child had asked for chocolate or meat on a day when her religion required she abstain, I would feel confident in denying the child her request. But I see water as a necessity, akin to sleep or clothing, and I think a Catholic can demonstrate personal holiness by giving water to the thirsty.

I like analogies. Suppose a child’s parents required the child to subsist on only four hours of sleep a night for a month, in the name of their religion, and the child came to you and asked if she could nap on your floor for an hour? Or suppose the child’s parents asked the child to go without a coat for a month in the late fall or early spring and, although not at risk for frostbite or hypothermia, the child was clearly cold and shivering? Do we honor the parent’s request at the expense of the child? In the name of respecting tradition?

I remember spending time with a Muslim friend I had in childhood, and during Ramadan he always drank water. I remember this very vividly because I was curious about the whole thing. Maybe there’s some variation to be found in the different strands of Islam?:confused:

You should be proud of your daughter for thinking about these things. Compliment her for having the presence of mind to even have this debate. Too many people act without thinking these days.

I think it’s perfectly fine to respect the parents’ wishes, unless there is a risk to the child’s health. Relationships are important and should be maintained, especially with members of other religions. Obviously, if it looks like their child is in danger, do what you have to do.

Yes, but not for an eight-year-old. It is not appropriate or healthy. Children become dehydrated and lose electrolytes much more quickly than adults.

There’s a reason neither the Catholic Church nor Muslims require children to fast.

Calling 911 seems a bit harsh. If the child was truly thirsty to a point of excess, give him/her a glass of water and then call the parents. If you call 911, they will likely call DCFS. In a situation like this, that seems uncalled for, at this point at least.

I see. OK sure. But what if the moslem parents ask the child to fast? I would still ask the parents. I wouldn’t want to offend them regarding this matter. I mean, well, who am I saying to her parents “a child is not required to fast according to …” ? :shrug:

Islam is a false religion. We are Catholic and the Catholic Church is the One True Faith. It is possible to know the truth, and speak the truth amongst Catholics (including teaching my children the truths of the faith), while also being respectful of other religious beliefs and traditions. Obviously, I am aware that not everyone worships the way we do, otherwise there would be no questions and this thread would not exist. Calling 911 for a thirsty child is NOT a respectful way to deal with other religious beliefs, when I could very easily have walked five steps to my neighbor’s front door and mentioned her daughter was dehydrated. Muslim children are not required by their religion to abstain from water and yet this family does ask their children to participate. Your post here is all over the place, first exhorting me to be respectful and then suggesting calling 911 for thirst.

In this situation, I think my daughter did the best she could. As an adult, I would likely have done the same thing. My neighbor’s front door is literally five steps from my own, and she lets her children come out to play with my own when we are out, but never steps foot outside her home. She wears the full hijab. She won’t speak with me when I speak to her and acts terrified of me, despite the fact that I have always been kind and desiring of conversation with her as a fellow mother. She trusts me to be around her children, however.
If I had been aware of the situation, I would not have given the child water behind her back, unless emergency action was necessary, which was not the case here.
I have been sad that she does not come out with any of the families to visit while the kids play. Her husband seems very comfortable with the fact that we are of different religions and greets my husband by name. So, many of the questions I have had about this could have easily been answered if she would only let me have a conversation with her.
(Obviously, each of us is going to think the other has a false religion, but that never has to mean that any unkindness would necessarily occur.)

I think the “calling 911” thing was mentioned in the case that the child was in need of immediate medical help, not as a first step. Even then, one should contact the parents also, of course --first if possible, but if the child is unconscious or something, right after you summon help.

A thirsty child five steps from their own home is not an emergency, nor is a thirsty child a case of dangerous dehydration.

I think your daughter did great, send the child home and let mom make the judgment call.

It’s prudent not to give food or drink to anyone’s child until it’s cleared with the parents, since there could be any number of issues involved.

Asking children to participate in the fasts etc of a faith is not always out of line, even if it’s not absolutely required. There are valuable lessons and spiritual gains, even for the young.

I don’t think there’s error in either the daughter giving water to her friend or in sending the child home (and calling to check on the child’s well-being - something I’d appreciate as a parent). Morally you’re seeing to the child’s needs, and it is not your responsibility to enforce the rules of fasting unless the child’s parents ask that it be so. Even if the parents ask for you to enforce those rules, the responsibility here is on the child. For example, if my daughter is going to a sleepover on a Friday during Lent I’d ask if her friend’s parents would mind serving a vegetarian meal, but I’d make sure she knew what I expected of her in terms of fasting. If she came home and said they ate hamburgers I’d discipline my daughter (discipline = correct and teach) and I might bring it up with the neighbors or probably just let it go but remember that they’re not as scrupulous about our fasting rules as I’d ask them to be.

The truth is, you can’t tell how thirsty the child is; she may be nearing heat stroke, she may not care about having a glass of water and be rejecting the fast her parents impose upon her. It is not up to you or your daughter to enforce the rules of the children’s faith unless it is expressly asked. The question that matters most is, what is this person asking of me, and can I do it without compromising myself? If so, I’d do it, and if there are repercussions against me then we need to have a longer conversation.

We tend to think we have an obligation to know the basics of other people’s religione. In Your situation, I would have played the ignorance card. Give her a drink. You are not required to know the rules of a different religion, not the gazillion ways they are followed by different people. Give her a drink, and think no more of it. If the neighbors come and complain, say “golly jeepers, really? I never would have thought even an 8 year old had to abstain…” Maybe that could inspire them to find out more about their own religion’s rules, at the very least. And if they get upset over Your actions, drop the sweet talk and tell them not to let her play outside her own home during ramadan in the daylight.
Just my fwo cents’ worth!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit