Suma, a young author, teacher and mother of three shares her thoughts and experiences on how we can help our children and their schools make the most of the blessed month of Ramadan:
As adults, we are looking forward to the blessed month of Ramadan in the hope of attaining greater closeness to our Creator. Many will also be thinking ahead about more practical issues the times for breaking fast at work, iftaars (sunset meal), weekend invitations to family and fiends, and the more organised ones amongst us will have already made in-roads into the now legendary 'Eid Shopping'.
However, an area that I feel is often overlooked is catering for the practical needs of our young. Ramadan is very much a family time as well as one of personal reflection. In most families, children enjoy the change of routine - visiting the mosque more often for example, and, of course, the fanfare and encouragement they receive when they have fasted. And this happiness is well-earned for they are partaking in the most cherished month of the year where globally believers raise their hands and hearts sincerely seeking mercy from Our Benevolent Sustainer.
Beyond the home, however we need to ensure that they are supported in their school day and related activities. Children of primary school age (broadly from 5 to 11 years) are not obliged to fast unless they have reached puberty. Yet primary schools and Muslim children often experience difficulties, which need not arise if parents are pro-active in seeing their children are organised throughout the month. Some Muslim parents and children are motivated by 'peer pressure' (of all things) to encourage their children to tot up how many fasts they've kept, when they are only 7 or 8 years old. But at this age, they may not be able to cope with the school routine (involving among other things PE and outdoor play three times a day), particularly when they have missed the predawn meal and have left home on an empty stomach. The matter is compounded when parents give excuses to teachers for lateness and missed homework or even absence 'because it's Ramadan'. In such cases, the message that is given to those outside the Muslim community is that this month is one in which there is a lack of discipline and a laissez-faire attitude as far as our children's' lives and education are concerned.
For secondary school children, the onus still lies on parents to help the school community understand what the month is about as well as addressing practical issues. For example, the need for prayer room facilities and avoiding certain strenuous physical activities can be dealt with in a sensitive manner. When teachers understand more about Ramadan and its significance and do not see it as a month of self-denial, there is a greater likelihood of our children having a better experience of fasting in school than if there were no dialogue.
In the true spirit of Ramadan, there are so many opportunities throughout the day for children to benefit from the moral and spiritual teachings that this month encourages. For example, sharing more stories from the life of the noble Prophet Muhammad (may God's peace be upon him) or discussing the significance of Ramadan with friends, more emphasis on performing charitable deeds, not being wasteful, greater emphasis on good behaviour (speaking only good, for example), sharing food with neighbours and memorising as well as understanding more surahs (chapters) of Qur'an are all positive attributes that need to be fostered and encouraged. These are just a few ways in which children can gain more from the month.
May this coming Ramadan bring peace and well-being to all, young and old alike.