Ramadan & Distance Learning: Insight from Two Muslim Parents
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
The fact that Ramadan starts later this week has been on my radar for some time. I have been fortunate to attend Iftar (when the daily fast is broken at dusk, around 8 pm) at a nearby mosque on a few occasions in recent years. What has always struck me is how community-oriented the event is. For those more familiar with church, picture a large church picnic – but occurring every single night for a month! In addition to delicious food and prayer, my memories of Iftar include joyful conversations with old and new friends, kids riding bikes and playing basketball, an ice cream truck showing up, and kids and families celebrating until 11 pm or midnight (way past my “educator bedtime”). With COVID-19, Ramadan is going to look and feel a lot different this year for Muslims all over the world. I am particularly interested in how this holiday will be different this year for Muslim children and families in the United States. Also, what impact might it have on distance learning and how can educators support students and families who are celebrating and/or fasting? To gain some insight on this, I reached out to a Pakistani-American mother of three in Maryland and a Somali-American father of five in Virginia. (Both wished to remain anonymous.) Major Differences this Year The biggest difference, of course, is that Muslims will not be able to visit their mosque for Iftar. According to the Pakistani-American mother I interviewed, she said “We like to go to the mosque during Ramadan. We see each other more than any other time of year. We have busy schedules and routines. Our kids don’t usually get much of a chance to learn about their religion and this month is our chance. We break our fast together and share our meals. It’s important to share Iftar with someone, even if it’s just one family we invite into our home. Also, at the end of Ramadan, we have Eid al-Fitr and our kids always look forward to these festivities. Ramadan is also a good opportunity to teach our kids about the needs of others because if you are fasting, you can understand the need of hungry people. Now it will be harder for us to teach our children to not just think about themselves.” Both parents spoke about Tarawih (also spelled Taraweeh), which are extra prayers that Muslims read at night, typically at the mosque, during the month of Ramadan. According to both parents I spoke with, there are different schools of thought on Tarawih. Some say that it is required and must be done in the mosque. Others say that it can be skipped and/or done at home with your family members praying together as a group. Either way, Tarawih is a big part of Ramadan and not being able to gather together in the mosque for this prayer will be very different. Adaptations in the Time of COVID-19 Both parents I spoke with mentioned the importance of virtual meetings with their Muslim community via Zoom, FaceTime, or other platforms. This gives children a chance to see their friends and according to the mother I spoke with “Since we can’t gather together to share meals right now, at least we can virtually get together and talk about what we’re cooking.” According to the Somali-American father I spoke with, his mosque (and many others) have updates on their websites about COVID-19, including web meetings and virtual Iftars that will occur. A Typical Day During Ramadan 2020 Both parents I spoke with said that they and their families go to bed around 11 pm or midnight during the month of Ramadan. In addition, both shared that they get up around 3:30 am so that they can cook and eat a good meal (called sahur) before the morning prayer, which is around 5 am. At that point, that day’s fast begins. According to the Pakistani-American mother I spoke with, when Ramadan falls during the summer and there’s no school, her children will typically go back to sleep around 6:30 am after the morning prayers. However, when school is in session, they do not typically go back to bed. This year will be a bit different. While there is more flexibility with school work and nowhere to travel for school, there are still virtual lessons at particular times, at least for her kids. Her school district records all Google Meetings and in theory, her kids could watch them anytime, but they love seeing their friends and their teachers. She said “I don’t want my girls to miss their Google Meet!” Advice for Educators Both parents I spoke with thought it would be great if educators could try and hold their live sessions a little later than usual. Some of this is for the students themselves, who may be fasting (typically for those 12 years and older), but also for parents who are fasting. The mother interviewed expressed that her youngest child requires constant help and hand-holding, so the timing of the live lessons definitely affects her too. She figured starting virtual meetings around noon would be perfect for her family, while the father we spoke with stated that 10 am would be fine. Both noted to expect that students who are fasting may be sleepy, hungry, and thirsty and that it will be harder for them to do assignments than the other months of the year. Some may find this year’s month of Ramadan to be easier than last year’s (where 1-2 weeks fell during the school year for those that don't get out until mid-June), but harder than when it totally falls over summer vacation.
Ramadan Considerations for Teachers During Distance Learning from Teaching While Muslim
Ramadan Resources from Shoulder to Shoulder (a national coalition-based campaign of religious denominations and faith-based organizations and communities that are committed to ending discrimination and violence against Muslims in the U.S.)
PowerPoints on Current Topics from Islamic Network Groups (ING)
Teaching About Ramadan and Eid from Teaching Tolerance
Virtual Iftar – if you’ve never participated in Iftar before, this year may be your chance! Check your local mosque’s website to see if they are holding any virtual Iftars. The Pacifica Institute is also putting on a “Ramadan Interfaith Dialogue Virtual Iftar” that you may be interested in checking out.