Ramadan Guide for Schools
It’s that time of year again! It’s Ramadan season. And if you’re an educator, chances are you have Muslim students who are fasting. Are you wondering how you can support them? Then this message is for you.
Ramadan’s a pretty special time of year. It’s when Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from dawn to sunset for twenty-nine or thirty days in a row. Muslims also make an extra effort to draw closer to God. We want to be good and do good. Often we’ll take advantage of the month to reset, shed bad habits, and improve ourselves. Ramadan’s also about family and community. It’s a festive, happy occasion.
The main thing about Ramadan is the fasting, of course, and that’s what’s going to affect your students most. So let me share a bit about that.
Not everyone is expected to fast. So if you’re ill or have certain medical conditions, you’re exempt from fasting. Children don’t have to fast until they reach a discerning age. Muslim scholars disagree about when that is, but it usually starts around when children reach puberty.
Nevertheless, some children will fast well before they’re required to do so. They’ll do so either part of the day or the full day. Why? Some children want to share in the spirit of joy. They see their family and friends fasting and want to join in. They may even understand fasting as a way of pleasing God and want to be in on the blessings.
But getting through the school day with a growling belly isn’t easy. And students may also be operating on little sleep, since they may stay up late at night for communal prayer and social gatherings, and they may wake up before dawn to eat before starting their daily fast.
So how can you support your students?
For Muslim students who are in the minority at school, Ramadan can feel lonely and isolating. Here are 4 tips to make Ramadan at school a better experience.
1. Be understanding
Learn why Muslims fast and keep an open mind even if you don’t fully get it. If you think about fasting as punishment or irrational, this may leak into how you treat students who are fasting. One of the hardest things for students to explain is that the beginning and end of Ramadan are dependent on the lunar calendar. So Ramadan gets pushed back 10 or 11 days each year. In addition, Muslims debate how best to determine the new moon that starts and ends the month So you may have some students starting Ramadan on one day and others the next day. Believe your students when they tell you they’re fasting. Believe them when they tell you they choose to do it.
Reach out to your Muslim students privately. You can also email their parents. Ask them what they need and how you can be of help. Not every Muslim student will practice Islam the same way. And not everyone will be committed to practicing their faith. So different students may need different accommodations. And keep in mind that even students who don’t seem all that connected to their faith may find themselves drawing closer to God and observing Ramadan practices. Even Muslims who aren’t fasting may want to connect more with their faith during Ramadan.
Lunchtime can be tough for Muslim students. Islam doesn’t prohibit people from eating in the presence of fasting people. But being in the cafeteria or lunchroom watching other children eat and drink can feel like torture for young Muslim students. Other students may ask them why they aren’t eating, and this may add to the feeling of isolation. Perhaps you can offer Muslim students the option of being in a different space at lunchtime, like the library, classroom or gym. Some may choose not to use the space, but for others it will be welcome respite when everyone around them is eating. They may even use it to pray or take a few minutes to be alone.
Students often have marks deducted if they can’t keep up in phys ed. While some children are able to run and jump while fasting, others will feel weak and exhausted. If the class is engaging in an activity that requires exerting a lot of physical energy, you can tell students to gauge themselves and sit out or take it easy if they can’t perform as well as they usually do.
Allow Muslim students to take the day off for their big celebration, Eid. This comes at the end of Ramadan. The date is dependent on the sighting of the new moon, so it may not be clear to them when Eid is until the day before. Reschedule tests so they don’t fall on Eid, or allow Muslim students to make them up afterwards.
Try to get into the mind of a Muslim student who is fasting and think about how they may feel. If you have a pizza party, will they feel left out? Will they need to break their fast at the same time as a school activity? Will they appreciate if tests or assignments are completed early in the day before their energy flags? How can you be more inclusive of them? Avoid singling out students who are already minorities to speak about Ramadan or Islam in front of the class. They may not want the responsibility of representing their faith and may feel uncomfortable if they’re made to feel different from everyone else.
Consider decorating your class, and teach your students something about Ramadan and about Muslims. Explain to them how Muslims view Ramadan, and what lessons they draw from the month. This allows everyone to participate in Ramadan. Having other students understand the important aspects of their lives also helps Muslim students feel included and comfortable being themselves in the classroom.
So those are my 5 tips for ensuring the wellbeing of Muslim students in Ramadan and fostering a safe and inclusive environment that allows every student to flourish: Be understanding, communicate, accommodate, empathize and teach.