4 Ways We Can Support Muslim Students During Ramadan and Year-Round

Mar 20, 2023 10:11:25 AM


When I attended Overbrook High School, a neighborhood public school in west Philadelphia, in the 80s, it felt like there were few Muslims there and I was related to all of them. With my maternal cousins, Muhammad and Bilal, and several members of the Shoatz family, my paternal cousins, it felt like I never had to look far to see a Muslim, even though there were only a few of us. 

Today, Overbrook and plenty of other schools—suburban, suburban, and rural—have a significant number of Muslim students. 

Because of  the visibility of Muslim practice—whether that’s a student wearing hijab or performing the daily prayers— the behavior of Muslim students is  sometimes scrutinized at higher levels than non-Muslim students.  While many Muslim students may have a high level of discipline and self-control that belies their age, others may need the same support that any of their peers may need. Support doled should not be meted based on the child’s religion, but on their developmental needs. 

Some schools struggle with how to support Muslim students and with the start of the holy Islamic month of Ramadhan, schools may need additional resources and a better understanding of how to support their Muslim youth, now and in the future. 

Here 4 ways to help support students during and outside of Ramadan.

  1. Understand Islamic history in the Americas: While many Americans think that Islam is a new and recent religion on these shores, there’s evidence that seafaring Muslims came and peacefully interacted with Native Americans before Columbus. There’s also evidence that up to 30% of the enslaved west Africans were Muslims and many, in the resiliency consistent with African people, practiced Islam in whatever ways they could on these shores. 

  2. Resist attempts to mute Muslim students’ voices: Muslim students may be experiencing challenging situations that need to be discussed and heard. Arundhati Roy said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” With the rhetoric of the presidential campaign and the spike in unabashed hate crimes and public white supremacy stances, student may need time and spaceto voice their concerns and work towards action that empowers them to maintain their self-dignity, resistance, and well-being. 

  3. Support their attempts to organize: Students may want to host iftars (breaking of the fast at nightfall) information sessions, interfaith dialogues, or just safe spaces to share ideas, experiences, and aspirations. Some students may want to formalize their work through Muslim Student Associations (MSA). This is all perfectly legal and should be supported in schools. Shoemaker’s MSA organized an anti-Muslim bigotry conference. They partner with the MSA from Gratz High School to host an annual community Iftar. Students in Philadelphia were very active in getting the school district and Philadelphia’s City Council to recognize two holy days of Islam Eidul Adha and Eidul Fitr. They testified and shared their experiences, attended rallies and planning meetings. They showed up. Encourage that type of advocacy. 

  4. Places to pray and fast: The month of Ramadhan will be during the school year for several years to come. Rusul Alrubail wrote a great piece that shares how schools can support Muslim students during the month of Ramadhan. She describes how school staff can show understanding and empathy. It is also important to create a judgement free zone. Every Muslim student may not fast for a variety of reasons.

Let’s make schools safe places and supportive of the communities that they serve. Regardless of the rhetoric and actions of white supremacists, Islam has been here for hundreds of years and it is here to stay. Our job is to ensure that our Muslim students feel as welcomed as every other group of students. Thank you in advance.

This story was reposted from phillys7thward

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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