5 Ways to Support Students & Colleagues During Ramadan by Fatema Elbakoury
“I went into education because I am the teacher my younger self needed. So I have to be what would have freed her at the time. It's scary, but it's necessary.” -Fatema Elbakoury
Ramadan starts on the evening of Monday, April 12th and ends on May 12th; therefore, I am amplifying the words of my good friend, teacher, and beautiful soul Fatema Elbakoury:
Growing up in the American public school system, I usually spent all of Ramadan apologizing as I asked for extensions, patience and support from my peers and teachers. Sometimes these needs were accommodated. Most times they weren’t because teachers didn’t want to look like they were giving me a pass.
My fears and experiences are those of many Muslim students in American schools. It is also an untold story of Muslim educators in this country, who are expected to produce curriculum and instruct with the same enthusiasm during this time--a pandemic that’s caused so much loss and trauma for everyone involved--as well as any other non-Muslim staff.
Here are three ways to support Muslim students:
Be Kind & Gracious: I know damn well you can't go without your coffee and water! So don't expect your students to produce the work you demand when you wouldn't even be able to produce it yourself under those circumstances. Allow for extensions and constantly communicate with your Muslim students as to when they feel they will be able to turn the assignment in. If it’s after Ramadan, it’s okay! You can still expect them to meet the criteria you set out on the rubrics you created, but allow for that time so they can focus on their spirituality and nourishment as well as their education. If they are quieter during class as a result of fatigue and dehydration, do not hold them to the same level of expectations when considering daily participation.
Make the Exception & Reach Out: REACH OUT in advance to see what those students need. If the idea of "making an exception" makes you uncomfortable then you might be part of the problem called islamophobia. The entire American context--from calendars to holidays--is structured around Christianity, so of course, you never have to ask for grace when you get every Sunday for it.
An important note here: Do not assume that because a student is Arab, they are Muslim. And do not assume that they will be fasting even if they are! Some Muslims can’t fast for medical conditions, and girl-identifying Muslims may be menstruating and therefore can’t fast for that period of time.
Address Students Directly & Offer Space: If another student comes up to you and says "Why does ______ not have to do_______?" You can tell them "Because it's Ramadan and _____ is fasting. They can't eat or drink till sundown, so they are very tired right now. Wouldn't you be tired if you had to do what we are doing right now with no food/water?" Use it as a moment to challenge your students, educate yourself, and create variation and open dialogue in your virtual classrooms (and physical classrooms for those who are back in-person).
Here are two ways to support your colleagues:
Overall Grace: Our memory and abilities will be even more limited than usual as a result of some dehydration and fatigue from fasting. We are still trying our best!
Disrupt Microaggressions: Do NOT say to your colleagues or to students, “I don’t know how you do it.” or “It must be so good for your health,” or “Not even water?” or “Aren’t you Muslim, so why aren’t you fasting?” And if you hear someone else saying similar comments address it immediately by situating that student in their actions. For example, “How would you feel if during this time of the year, you would have to constantly answer these questions because most people aren’t aware of your faith?” Or, “Actually, Muslims hold varying degrees of faith and each Muslim is different in that, so maybe it’s not okay to assume?”
Ramadan Mubarak and good luck on your journey as an educator!
Note: Fatema will be curating lesson plans about Ramadan for your classrooms. The release date will be announced in next week’s newsletter. Be sure to follow Fatema on Twitter: @fy822!