Supporting Students During Ramadan: The Role Teachers Play
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar when Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. And it can be a difficult month for many to get through, especially students who have to go through a normal school day — and now a very abnormal school day online — without eating or drinking.
This year, Ramadan began on April 23. [Note: Ramadan starts the evening of April 12, 2021.] With most classes functioning online due to the coronavirus pandemic, I suggest teachers provide flexibility on deadlines and early morning calls since students likely stayed up having Iftar (breaking of fast) and doing prayers with their family the night before.
Supporting Students During Ramadan: Who Fasts and Why
Fasting is not obligatory for children, until they reach “of age.” There is scholarly debate on what that age might be, though most scholars do recommend that fasting start when one reaches adolescence, anywhere from 13 and up. There are some Muslims who start earlier, or later. For example, I started when I was 9, but I did “half-days,” meaning I fast from either morning until about lunchtime, or from lunchtime until evenings.
Often Muslims are also exempt from fasting if they’re ill or have certain medical conditions, or traveling. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms are also exempt, as well as elderly folks
Ramadan is considered one of the holy months in the Islamic calendar. Kindness, forgiveness and charity are often pursued as good practice in faith. It is also a time to be more compassionate and show empathy to those in need.
While fasting, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activities. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to make an extra effort to abstain from lying, gossiping and other sinful acts. Many Muslims use Ramadan as a time to reset and start anew, creating new goals and improving old ones to improve oneself and rejuvenate the spirit and the soul. (Here is a quick video I made about some of the reasons I fast.)
Fasting often provides a spiritual perspective for Muslims that allows them to understand the suffering of those who are less fortunate, in poverty, and those in need. It also reminds us to not be wasteful of God’s blessings.
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Supporting Students During Ramadan: How Schools Can Help
During this holy month, one of the hardest things that I often hear my Muslim students complain about is the lack of space and lack of understanding. Here are several ways to support your students during the month of Ramadan:
- Distance learning: revisit deadlines and screen time. Due to different sleeping schedules, be mindful when scheduling assignments, deadlines and video calls. Try to limit the number of video conferences and screen time for students, as fasting will often cause headaches and exhaustion, and screens will add to this.
- Understanding: One of the vital pillars in creating a safe environment for Muslim students in Ramadan is to educate oneself about the month. Many teachers and classmates do not understand why Muslims fast. It’s important to try to form your own understanding about the month, and to not rely on Muslim students to educate the class.
- Empathy: This sounds easy, but having empathy requires one to truly understand the other person’s situation and feelings. Will students feel left out? Will they need to break their fast during that time if it’s during Iftar (i.e. sunset)?
If students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers, it can turn a challenging month into the most rewarding. If you’re still unsure about how to help practicing Muslim students in your school, don’t hesitate to reach out and speak with parents or another family member.
Written by Rusul Alrubail.
Rusul Alrubail is the executive director of the Parkdale Centre for Innovation in Toronto, Canada. Rusul is also a writer, a speaker and social justice activist.