Mark your calendars! This year, Ramadan is expected to start on Saturday, April 2, 2022, and end on Sunday, May 1, 2022.
One can start this by wishing someone a happy Ramadan and saying “Ramadan Kareem!” or “Ramadan Mubarak!” Educators can also take additional affirmative steps to support and accommodate their Muslim students’ religious needs during such a significant period, as well as to address common misconceptions about Islam and fasting in the school community.
Islam is built on five pillars which represent its core beliefs and practices. They are: Profession of Faith (Shahada), prayer (Salat), alms (Zakat), fasting (Sawm) and pilgrimage (Hajj). Sawm, which means fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam observed during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which only healthy adults and young adolescents who passed the age of puberty observe an obligatory act of fasting. The importance of the month commemorates the first revelation day of the Qur’an called Laylat al-Qadr (the night of decree) hidden in one of the days of the holy Ramadan month. Fasting is practiced in various dominant religions including Christianity and Judaism. Unlike these religions, in Islam fasting is refraining from all food, water and other human desires from dawn to dusk for 30 days. Through this temporary deprivation, Muslims are allowed to control their needs, desires, and distractions, giving themselves room to reflect upon their gratitude, devotion, and submission to Almighty Allah. Hence, Ramadan is the month of empowerment because people realize that desires do not drive a person, but it is the person who holds control over them. Fasting is also a learnable moment to share the hunger and thirst of the needy as a reminder of the religious duty to help those less fortunate.
Some Muslim students may feel lonely or isolated during this period. There are a few suggestions for educators to continuously support their students during Ramadan and show compassion to their religious practice.
- offering a safe place for fasting students to go during lunchtime so that they could rest during breaks
- avoiding consuming food and beverages in front of these students whenever possible.
- rearranging high stake exams to be done during the morning sessions closer to when Muslim students have eaten
- offering alternative, i.e., less intensive, activities during PE classes
- offering short breaks during lessons
- avoiding questioning a student if they are fasting or not
- not planning tests or exams on a recognized religious holiday like Eid-al Fitr
Students might show exhaustion and sleepiness at different levels, not necessarily because of hunger or thirst, but because of changes in sleeping and eating routine. Fasting students and their parents wake up early in the morning to perform morning prayer and have a meal before dawn known as suhoor. The Iftar time, the meal at breaking fast during sunset comes 14-15 hours after suhoor. Because of these changes, fatigue may be noticeably enhanced during this time. Showing compassion and empathy to students during this special time is a good starting point for the normalization of cultural and religious sensitivity. Teachers can encourage students and their colleagues to fast for at least one day in solidarity with Muslim students and/or organize a “Dawn to Dusk fasting” challenge in support of Muslim communities.
Muslim communities are not monolith. Islamic practices may vary from culture to culture and from family to family. While some cultures allow children to fast at the age of seven for several hours a day, others do not. While some families perform additional Tarawih prayers in the evening and spend several hours at night reciting the Qur’an, others do not. For these reasons, communication with students and their families about their Ramadan traditions is the best option to get to know their way of observing Ramadan.
After a month of devotion and self-control, Muslims around the world celebrate the accomplishments of sacred duties performed during Ramadan with the tremendous celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Usually, the celebration lasts three days depending on the culture but can be limited to one day, which in no way detracts from its significance. The celebration starts with Eid prayer and continues with family gatherings, gift-giving, and sharing celebratory meals with families and friends. Importantly, Eid accomplishes another core pillar of Islam, paying the annual obligatory payment on the property for charitable purposes called Zakat. Zakat is given to less fortunate families so that they also can enjoy festivities with their beloved ones.
It is equally important to raise awareness of school administrators, nurses, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and all other school staff about significance of Ramadan for Muslim communities to ensure a multifaceted accommodation. Additionally, accommodating working Muslims during Ramadan is a generous and thoughtful gesture, and they will undoubtedly feel valued and taken care of.
My two middle-schooler children and I are looking forward to Ramadan with immense excitement. We appreciate the time given to us for devotion, submission, and reflection. By sharing this post, I hope to encourage cultural and religious sensitivity for all school communities who have been teaching and welcoming Muslim students of local, immigrant, and refugee backgrounds.
My family wishes you a Happy upcoming Ramadan!
Written by Nasiba Norova
International Ph.D. Student in Applied Linguistics
Research & Teaching Assistant
University of Massachusetts Boston