By Erum Mohiuddin, Director of Operations at Whatcom Intergenerational High School
Prior to moving to Washington state, where I am the Director of Operations at Whatcom Intergenerational High School in Bellingham opening to students and families this fall, I was a Principal of an Islamic School in Michigan. Being a mom and educator, I know Ramadan can be a very challenging time for Muslim families as they manage work, home lives, children’s schoolwork, fast (from sunrise to sunset) and worship (from sunset to sunrise). Ramadan is hectic, joyous and spiritual all at once, but many folks outside of Muslim communities don’t know or understand the needs of our families during this time.
I know that Washington’s public charter schools, Whatcom Intergenerational High School included, wish to create a school culture of inclusivity, which entails supporting all families and students, so they know they are seen, heard, and valued. Here are several ways that schools can support Muslim families during Ramadan. Spoiler: All these recommendations require effective communication and authentic family engagement – essential ingredients for truly inclusive school culture!
- Ramadan is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. It is a month where Muslims fast from sun up to sun down. Fasting is important as it allows Muslims to devote themselves to their faith, giving charity, the Quran (Holy book) and God. It is a period to reflect on your faith and spend time with your family and community.
- For further information: Ramadan
Be understanding of the need for time off and accommodating of schedule changes
- Ramadan is not a recognized holiday. Therefore, students face challenges when they take the day off for prayer and celebration. We should be understanding that families may need to make arrangements to observe Ramadan.
- The end of Ramadan is an immensely devotional time. Families are immersed in worship, charity, community activity and gatherings. Pre-COVID, families gathered at local mosques for prayers every night – large gatherings where people eat and pray together at the mosque till dawn. Kids may come to school late and assignments may not be done. There is a misunderstanding amongst the non-muslim community regarding Muslim Parents who choose to instill the practice of Ramadan with their children because they keep their kids up at night to pray, make them fast (at a young age) or wake them up early for the pre-dawn meal. Muslim parents are working hard during Ramadan to teach children their culture, tradition and religion.
The Timing of Ramadan
There is a struggle within the Muslim community regarding predicting or calculating the beginning and end of Ramadan. This happens because Muslims follow the lunar calendar which means that months can have 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon. The start of Ramadan depends on the lunar cycle and starts and ends with the sighting of the new moon.
With the advent of science and technology predicting the moon has become easy but there are many who believe that seeing the moon with the naked eye is important. Therefore, the problem… whom does one follow? The consensus opinion is to follow what the leaders in your community have determined, which may happen late into the night.
This becomes problematic for students when they try to explain when Ramadan begins or ends to teachers and fellow students. This is an opportunity for an educator to engage in a conversation with the student or family to learn more. By starting a conversation, the educator can show the student that they are seen and heard. These great resources to learn more:
- Ramadan for educators by Teizeen Mohamedali,
- Nadia’s Ramadan, a video from PBS and How teachers can support students during Ramadan from PBS News Hour
- What Is Ramadan? Six Things to Know About the Muslim Holy Month from NBC News
- Teaching About Ramadan and Eid by Learning for Justice
Be flexible with test schedules, arrival times and meal schedules.
- Consider your Muslim students’ celebrations and avoid scheduling tests on Eid. Interesting Fact: Pre-Pubescent Students, while not required to fast by most traditions, see their parents and older siblings fasting and may want to participate. For the majority of fasting kids, this may mean students can get tired, cranky, have trouble concentrating or not have the energy to participate in classes like P.E. Talk to students and families to find solutions that could work during the holiday. Perhaps it’s about finding a different time for breakfast or lunch, less rigorous PE exercises, building in more breaks or scheduling a different arrival time – whatever the solution, work with families to see what will help them during Ramadan.
Acknowledge the month with your families and students
- Ramadan is religiously and culturally important for Muslims. A simple Happy Ramadan can help make a student feel valued and seen. It can help build a bridge and start a conversation with a family on how to best support the unique needs of their student. Especially in subjects like Social Studies, or Languages, it would be good to explore how various cultures celebrate this important time.
This week marks the end of Ramadan. It’s a great opportunity for educators to wish their Muslim students and families an ‘Eid Mubarak’, which means “blessed feast.”
All students benefit when we acknowledge the diverse lived experiences that exist within school communities. As educators, by taking time to get to know families and students, we can personalize their learning experience to best meet their needs. I hope these suggestions will serve to encourage educators – and non-Muslim families in our school communities – to better understand the needs of Muslim students during religious holidays, and to more broadly ensure that all students are known and seen year-round.