Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is an important time for Muslims, as custom holds that Ramadan was the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon, and its months do not correspond to the same dates in the standard Gregorian calendar each year. Ramadan shifts forward ten to eleven days each year, relative to the Gregorian calendar. For example, Ramadan in 2010 started on August 11; by 2020 Ramadan will start on April 24. Though it is perhaps more accurate to say it might start on these dates; there are disputes within Islam over how to interpret the Islamic calendar, and not all Muslim communities recognize the identical dates for Ramadan.
Observant Muslims are called upon to purify themselves during the month of Ramadan by good deeds and self-restraint. Specifically, Muslims are to fast (as well as refrain from sex, smoking, and self-indulgence in general) from sunrise to sunset. Exemptions are allowed for children below the age of puberty, the elderly, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, menstruating women, pregnant women, nursing women, and people traveling long distances. Though Muslims may take food and beverage before sunrise and after sunset during Ramadan, even at these times they are supposed to do so only in moderation, observing self-restraint.
The Ramadan fast can provide special challenges for Muslim students in a primarily non-Muslim country such as the United States. While younger children are not obligated to observe the Ramadan fast, that still leaves many children who do observe it. These children at times can be made to feel very uncomfortable.
Children tend to be even more conformist than adults, even more unaccepting of those who are different, even more desirous of not being perceived as different themselves. The Ramadan fast may well strike the non-Muslim majority children as peculiar or worse. They may think less of the Muslim student who no longer eats like a “normal” kid in the lunchroom, or even think of Islam as a cruel faith that forces its members to not eat all day for a month for no reason.
And even if these attitudes are not prevalent, there is the danger that the Muslim student will anticipate them and feel afraid or ashamed in the face of the other students’ imagined disapproval.
Muslim parents need not stand by while these things happen. They need not allow Ramadan to become a negative experience for their child.
One thing parents can do is discuss Ramadan and the reason for the fast with their children. If children see it as a pointless ritual that is followed for no reason other than tradition, they may end up resenting it. They won’t know how to explain it to their classmates and may just feel ashamed, or perhaps even lie and say they’re not eating because they aren’t hungry or are on a diet, excuses they hope will seem more normal and therefore acceptable.
But students who are armed with the knowledge of the principles behind the Ramadan fast, who understand its use of self-restraint to help focus the mind on goodness and spirituality, are more likely to embrace the practice and explain it with pride if asked about it at school.
Furthermore, the majority of schools would be very receptive to people from the community visiting to explain a cultural practice like Ramadan. It may be too much to ask the student himself or herself to prepare and deliver a presentation to their class, but a parent or another adult from the neighborhood who is knowledgeable about Muslim practices could arrange with a teacher to come in on the first day of the month of Ramadan and explain the importance of the fast to the Islamic faith.
Kids will be much more accepting of difference, much less apt to use it as a reason for hate or fear or ostracism, if they understand it.
It is important to be understanding of the difficulties a student might experience in connection with the Ramadan fast. Open communication with the student, and if possible with his or her classmates, is the best way to deal with these problems.
Charles Haynes, “Muslim Students’ Needs in Public Schools.” Islamic Info.
Sahar Kassaimah, “Our Children’s Challenges During Ramadan.” Islam Online.