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This year in mid-April, approximately 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide will be observing the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, which begins the morning after sighting the last sliver of a crescent moon before a new moon and lasts for 30 days. The observance of Ramadan is deeply personal for individual Muslims but is generally marked by a period of fasting and praying.
As a student in high school, I learned about several world religions, including Islam. But I didn't have any personal experience with the religion until I began teaching at my current school where almost ⅓ of our student population are practicing Muslims. This opened my eyes to the many ways that we, as educators, can make this time easier for our Muslim students.
Fasting, or Sawm, is the fourth Pillar of Islam. Healthy individuals fast from sunrise to sunset. Young children may be exempted, but I have had students as early as 2nd grade begin fasting. Fasting includes abstaining from all food and drink (including water).
For many students, fasting can be the most challenging aspect of Ramadan. Children will awake before sunrise to eat a meal with their families, known as Suhoor. They will not be able to eat or drink until after sunset when the fast is broken during the Iftar meal. That means that students will not be able to eat or drink for 15-18 hours!Teachers and schools can be mindful of fasting students by providing an alternate location during lunch periods Click To Tweet
Teachers and schools can be mindful of fasting students by providing an alternate location during lunch periods, such as an empty classroom or auditorium. It's hard enough to fast all day without also having to be surrounded by other kids eating. Allowing Muslim students a time to socialize with each other away from the temptation of food can go a long way to making them feel understood and accepted. When planning classroom celebrations, such as birthdays, teachers will want to provide a non-food treat. Children can be just as happy playing with sidewalk chalk outside or watching a movie as they would with eating cupcakes.
Because Muslim students are not eating or drinking during Ramadan, they also may tire more easily. This makes strenuous physical activity very difficult. Physical Education teachers might consider having fasting students walk laps or write an essay during class time. If the weather is hot, allow students the opportunity to play indoors during recess.
The second Pillar of Islam is Salat or prayer. Prayer occurs five times per day in the direction of Mecca (the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad). Muslim students should be allowed a quiet, private place to pray. Teachers can be proactive by asking ahead when they will need to leave to pray, so that when it is time the students can step out quietly and not disrupt the classroom environment.
Ramadan ends with a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr. The festival of Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for 3 days. Muslim students will be spending that time out of school with their families participating in traditions, such as giving to the needy, praying, and visiting relatives.
Administrators can be supportive by checking the starting and ending dates for Ramadan so big school events and field trips can be scheduled around this time.
Teachers can make their students feel special and included by wishing them "Eid Mubarak", which is a traditional Eid greeting. Eid Mubarak loosely translates to "Have a blessed Eid". This simple gesture often surprises and brings smiles to the faces of my Muslim students.
If you don't know, ask. Respectfully. Students, regardless of their beliefs, just want to be loved and accepted and not ostracized for their traditions. Ask questions like, "How do you observe Ramadan?" and "How can I help you be comfortable during Ramadan?" Take the opportunity to educate yourself and the other students in your classroom. We often have non-Muslim students choose to fast during lunch periods with their peers as a show of support and solidarity. This kind act does more to foster goodwill than words ever could.
Although traditions may vary region to region or family to family, Ramadan is a sacred time of year for Muslims. TESOL teacher Elham Shairi states, "My life would not be complete without this holy month. It's about so much more than just eating. It's remembering those who are less fortunate than us, emphasizing our focus on the day-to-day blessings that we may take for granted, and recalling the beautiful verses in the Quran." A typical school year is about 180 days, but Ramadan is just 30. By showing compassion and providing accommodations for our Muslim students during this time, we can be the emissary for acceptance and understanding within our school community.