This year Ramadan coincides with the first day of school for many families. Realizing that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters do choose the public school system for their kids’ education, this is a resource to help make the best out of Ramadan in public school. This blessed month is such a vital part of being Muslim that enjoying it and sharing it with others, instead of hiding it, goes a long way in maintaining Muslim children’s Islamic identity while attending public school. After the will of Allah, it begins with parental involvement in the lives of their children. You owe it to them.
Send in a letter or email to the school principal and the classroom teacher introducing your family and informing them about Ramadan. This sample letter to your child’s principal includes an offer to come into class and do a presentation on Ramadan. You can correlate it to the phases of the moon in science especially for first and third graders as it is a part of the curriculum. One year, we did the phases of the moon craft and asked the kids to watch out for the waxing and waning of the moon throughout the month.
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To preempt any misunderstanding, meet with the teacher and/or principal and show her your material. For example, the Adam’s World Ramadan DVD is a great resource, so I asked the classroom teacher to preview it beacuse she is more familiar with the school disctrict’s rules; she chose to show the second stanza onwards of the nasheed “We scanned the sky” by Dawud Wharnsby Ali – it was such a hit!! The kids kept asking her to replay it over and over again.
There are several great books on the subject that are perfect for sharing during story-time.
My First Ramadan by Karen Katz – this little book is perfect for preschoolers – 2nd graders and makes a great gift for the class library. You can mix in a nasheed. It was amazing watching my daughter’s preschool class holding hands in a circle singing along to the chorus of ‘These are the days of Eid.”
Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry – I read this book to my daughter’s third grade class, which led to a great discussion where kids of all different faiths talked about how their parents fast too. “Oooh, my mom fasts too, on Lent! Mine fasts to lose weight! We do it too on Yom Kippur” The kids gushed after I finished my presentation. My daughter loved being the center of attention and the discussion was alive for days.
The Three Muslim Festivals is a beautifully illustrated book that has stories of Muslim kids celebrating Ramadan, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha in a western country. It is a must-have for every Muslim kids’ library, and to educate others, gift it to your school library.
Send in Eid gifts – its great dawah. It’s the beginning of the school year; it will break the ice and help your child feel special. Alhamdulillah, the children in our elementary school look forward to being in my kid’s classroom and remember that Zahrah doesn’t celebrate Christmas. They don’t have to be elaborate; pencils, dollar-store toys, chapsticks, a handmade rendering of their names in Arabic, etc. Attach a tag that says Eid Saeed/Happy Eid.
If your school has a newsletter and the administration wishes the students on their religious holidays then do ask for Muslim holdays to be acknowledged as well. This little note started the beautiful tradition of wishing Muslim students Happy Eid in our elementary school.
For Middle/Junior High and High School Kids-
Fasting is fardh for most Muslim youth this age. A letter should be sent to the principal, homeroom teacher and especially the P.E. teacher. In this letter, explain your child’s physical and spiritual needs. This sample letter for high school can be adjusted to fit your family.With so many Muslim kids participating in team sports, coachs have to be included in this conversation. They are often concerned out of care and liability issues but a friendly letter or talk can ease their worries.
If your son wants to follow the example of Muslim atheletes i.e. Hakeem Olajuwon and Husain Abdullah and man up to attending P.E.class, then let them. It is hard being the only guy in class sitting on the sidelines. (My maternal instinct says no way in this 102 degree weather, but I give this advice based on talks with Muslim teens).
Make sure you make them get up for suhoor – if they are in the pratice of getting up for fajr this should be easy if not, use these tips for waking them up. Have them eat a healthy breakfast, say yes to the smoothies, multi-grain pancakes, oatmeal, and eggs their way. This is not the time to insist on a traditional meal from the home country. Keep them hydrated through the night with a water bottle designated just for your teen at their bedside.
Don’t go back to sleep after fajr – this is a great oppurtunity for family time. Read Quran together. It is one thing to tell your kids “Go read Quran” and quite another to read Quran to each other. They can also study at this time and do homework as well. This frees up the afternoons for dhikr, helping around the house, reading Quran and napping so your teenager is fresh for taraweeh.
Empower your children with information. When they are younger role-play with them so if friends ask them why they are fasting or if they are made fun of, they have some standard answers to give. For high school kids, have honest discussions about Ramadan, its virtues and its spiritual aspects; listen to or watch a lecture together. They want their whys answered – so talk to them about the psychological aspects, about reflecting on their lives, about cleansing their spirit, about using this time to set up good habits for the rest of the year.
Ask you teen to go to the library during lunch time or help out a teacher in class. Staying away from the cafeteria helps makes fasting easier.
Urge them to have a good attitude – “If you complain and say I am hungry – that’s just not good dawah and frankly people don’t care or will urge you to eat.” Listening and sharing other Muslim youths’ stories on how they handle Ramadan in school can spark great dialogue between teens, their parents and siblings.
Teens want to see you “walk the walk not just talk the talk.” Organize an event with your teen, i.e. an interfaith iftar or initiate a recycling drive at the masjid. My friend N and her 17-year old daughter bond over long drives to the downtown Los Angeles to feed the homeless for Humanitarian Day.
Suggest your teen host a fast-a-thon and donate the money to charity. I remember many non-Muslim dormies fascinated by the concept; who wanted to experience fasting. Hungry for Change is an interfaith initiative run by the Muslim Student Association, the fast-a-thon encourages non-Muslim students to fast for one day in the month of Ramadan. For each student who pledges to fast, local businesses make a donation. MSA students then donate the proceeds to a local food shelter or soup kitchen.
Bring them to the masjid – they might whine and not want to go but remember you are the parent. Once they are there, they meet friends, some they haven’t seen for the whole year. It is halal fun. A student of mine told me that the largest dance is held on the first Friday after her school starts. “If I go to the masjid instead of going to the dance, its halal fun, I won’t be bombarded with texts from school kids because they know I am at the masjid.” Even though it is unconventional, encourage this line of thinking, at this age, peer pressure is momentous. The idea is to make their moral compass swing back to Islam regardless of what is happening around them.
Let them invite their friends to the masjid. Many times, I have witnessed non-Muslim kids at our masjid experiencing what Ramadan is, first-hand. The young Muslims who invite them have the most wonderful look on their faces, an awesome pride often missing in Muslim youth.
The Muslim Council of Britain is very active; they issued guidelines about Ramadan based on parental concerns. Using these guidelines, Stoke-on-Trent city council has advised the Staffordshire schools not to hold swimming lessons in Ramadan and informed teachers that Muslim kids’ sleep schedules may be disrupted due to late taraweeh and early suhoor. Here in the U.S., Council of Islamic Organizations in the Greater Chicago has a resource guide on Muslim Cultural Education that parents can send in to their respective school districts. Committed parents and activism can bring about understanding and make your child’s Ramadan a positive and engaging experience even while attending public school.