Ramadan starts around May 27 for a month. Schools need to be prepared and aware that some students (and staff) will be fasting, says Amjad Ali
Ramadan will again fall in summer this year, which means fasts will last 19-20 hours.
Muslims will be expected to wake up before sunrise, eat, drink, pray and then potentially return to bed.
Some of them may be your students. They will travel to school and be expected to participate in strenuous activities, watch their peers eat and drink and get on with their normal lives. They will then go home to do their homework and chores, but will need to wait until almost 10pm to eat and drink. (When fasting you can’t even drink water.)
Show that you understand this obligatory pillar of Islam
After their fasts are broken, they may also need to attend mosque, which could go on until midnight.
This undoubtedly will take a toll. However, for many it is the most blessed month of the year, where self restraint, commitment and faith are displayed. Many regard it as a character-building month, where Muslims can find themselves again and bring themselves closer to God.
There are some important things every school leader and teacher should know:
• Muslims should only fast when they are physically and emotionally mature – ie, undergone puberty.
• They should not do anything that will intentionally damage their health.
• They are expected to uphold their education and try their utmost in school. If they have an exam, they may be able to miss the fast and make up for it at another date.
• Young children may fast for part of the day to help them to practise or to build tolerance to the experience. Primary pupils are not expected to fast, but it is up to the parents to make this call. It is not for a school to decide on whether or not a child should fast, unless, as per Department for Education guidance, it is having a significant damaging effect on the child.
• Parents and carers should try not to keep their children up late during school nights and should encourage weekend prayers if need be. Fasting will affect pupils’ concentration (and it is during the exam season). So what can schools do?
• Show the students you understand about their faith and about this obligatory pillar of Islam.
• Make alternative arrangements for them (ie, dedicated spaces away from other students who are eating) during lunches and break times.
• Provide information to all students about Ramadan.
• Encourage students to break their fast only if it is a risk to their health and wellbeing, not merely because you feel badly for them.
• Share Ramadan with them! Try to keep a fast and share your experiences with your students. Saying Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem wishes the recipient a blessed or generous Ramadan.
• Ask students to talk to their parents or carers if they feel their education is being affected.
• Think ahead to special events in school and plan them around Ramadan – ie, when is your school planning to hold its attendance rewards lunch or sports day?
• Make sure rooms are at the right temperature and shaded, especially exam halls.
Ramadan is a holy month and for many Muslims it is 30 days that can bring about a lifetime change.
As concerned as we may be as teachers and as rigorous as we can be in terms of safeguarding, health and well-being, the practice of fasting has been around for a long time. Parents also care about their children’s well-being. So let’s not judge when our students can and can’t fast. Let them uphold their faith and allow them to flourish both spiritually and academically.
If you are concerned about how Ramadan is affecting a pupil, a conversation with the students and parents often goes a long way.
And don’t forget when you are planning those school events, that some of your teachers may be fasting too!
Amjad Ali is a teacher, leader and trainer. You can find him on Twitter @ASTsupportAAli