In 2018, Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, occurs from mid-May to the middle of June. This means that for students all over the US, class will be in session. Ramadan is a festive time in Islam, meant for togetherness and community. For Muslim students, however, it can sometimes be lonely or isolating. Fortunately, there are a few simple things teachers can do to support students during Ramadan.
1. Don’t force students to out themselves.
Muslim students often decline to share their faith with classmates and teachers or attempt to minimize physical markers of their beliefs. (Think women refraining from wearing headscarves, even though they believe wearing them is important.) They may feel (and often are) unsafe doing so.
Therefore, it’s better not to ask if anyone is observing Ramadan. Instead, assume you have Muslim students and create classroom policies and structure accordingly.
2. Avoid food-centric class events.
During Ramadan, all adults who are able to are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. Depending on which age you teach, you may have students participating in fasting in part or in full.
This year, since Ramadan happens from the middle of May to the middle of June, the holy month will coincide with end-of-year celebrations at many schools. While food may be an element of these celebrations, consider not making it the main event. Have classroom games and activities be the focus instead. This policy also benefits students with food allergies.
3. Think carefully before having your class fast “in solidarity.”
While some Muslim students may feel supported by people who are also fasting, it’s important to remember that the purpose of fasting is to draw Muslims closer to Allah, not to suffer.
Fasting in solidarity can also evoke unnecessary sympathy or a belief that being Muslim is not as good as being a member of a different faith. If you know you have Muslim students in your class, ask them what they would find helpful during Ramadan. If you’re not sure, it’s better to refrain.
4. Reduce potentially dangerous physical activity.
Since fasting is an important part of Ramadan, students may be experiencing low blood sugar, weakness, and other symptoms that make physical activity dangerous. Many Muslim students will ask to modify their exercise or to be excused from PE. Others will choose to participate fully in these activities.
Either way, it’s important to talk to your principal about the school’s policy and have alternative ideas for students who may need them.
5. Offer time and space for prayer.
During Ramadan, Muslims believe that their spiritual efforts are especially important and enhanced. Muslims who do not regularly pray will often do so, and those who do pray more regularly may pray even more during this time. It’s important for Muslims to have an appropriate space to pray. Almost anywhere will do, but your students must be able to focus and turn toward Mecca. It can also be helpful to offer some privacy, especially since you may have students who choose not to disclose their faith.
One way to create this type of space would be to periodically offer students “mindfulness time,” during which students can pray, meditate, or take a short mental break from what they’re doing. You may even find it helpful to offer a chance to take a short walk outside. Taking a break like this is also a helpful classroom management tool, so it may be worth adopting as a year-round practice.
6. Create an alternative space during lunch.
While Muslims are supposed to notice their hunger and thirst during Ramadan, sitting in a room where everyone else is eating can be overwhelming, and it’s not a required part of the experience. It’s about awareness, not suffering. Muslim students will feel included if they have an alternative place to take a break during lunch. The library, with a few games to play or fun books to read, can be a great alternative, as can spending time outside.
7. Keep an eye out for students who may need additional support.
Muslim students may be experiencing acute senses of loss from missing family members no longer with them, mourning for lost homes (especially if they’re immigrants), or being made aware of the persecution they face during this time. A key part of Ramadan is breaking the fast each day with friends and family, and the first holiday without a loved one can be especially raw.
Keep an eye out for students who don’t seem like themselves. Be prepared to offer support in whatever way you can. It may be worth talking to parents or students about counseling if the month is especially hard on them emotionally.
8. Teach your class about Ramadan traditions and Islam.
People feel included when the people around them understand their lives. Ramadan is a great opportunity to teach your class about Islam and build empathy for Muslims. You may offer Muslim students the opportunity to talk about their experiences, take a field trip to a mosque, or do a whole unit about the history of Islam. If you’re teaching in a place where Muslims are especially persecuted, you might want to do a lesson debunking common myths and misconceptions, too.
9. Consider decorating your classroom.
Islamic art is beautiful, and Ramadan is ultimately a festive time. Acknowledging the holiday in your classroom by decorating with lanterns and Islamic art is a way to observe the holiday that allows everyone to participate. Depending on your class, you may want to decorate on your own or get the whole class involved in the process. This is a great opportunity for Muslim students to teach their classmates about their own traditions, if they wish.
How does your school support students during Ramadan? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.