Teaching students about diverse cultural and religious traditions holds a host of benefits, including increased empathy and kindness. And in this time of heightened anti-Muslim bias, we can all use more of both.
Ramadan (or Ramazan) is a month-long spiritual period of fasting and prayer that commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, according to Muslim tradition. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to dusk, and the month culminates with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day celebration that involves praying, visiting relatives, giving gifts to children, remembering deceased loved ones and helping those experiencing poverty.
For Muslims all over the world, Ramadan and Eid are the most significant festivals of the year. Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which means it starts on a different date each year. Eid follows around a month later, depending on when the crescent moon appears. Usually, children start fasting at least for a few days during Ramadan once they turn 7 or 8 years old.
Pointing out the aspects that Ramadan and Eid have in common with other religious celebrations will help Muslim children take pride in their religious identity and help non-Muslim children develop empathy and understanding. It can also provide an opportunity for Muslim children to share their culture and broaden the horizons of their classmates. You can discuss these festivals at any point in the school year.
For teachers interested in including a discussion around Ramadan and Eid in class, here are some ideas:
- Parent or Family as Cultural Ambassador: If there is a Muslim child in your class, you can reach out to the child and their family to ask if they would be comfortable sharing more information about the festival and its traditions with the rest of the class.
- Using Books as Resources: There are some fun and insightful picture books you can use to lead a discussion on Ramadan, such as Lailah’s Lunchbox. In this story, Lailah struggles with sharing her faith and traditions with her teacher and classmates. Eventually, with the help of her librarian and teacher, she gains confidence, acceptance and admiration from her peers. The book also comes with a lesson plan. Another alternative is Drummer Girl, a delightful story about a young girl named Najma, who wants to challenge the gender norms of an ancient Ramadan tradition. Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. and Growing Up Muslim are wonderful for the middle grades.
- Making Connections: Discuss parallels between Ramadan and fasting during Lent in the lead-up to Easter. Other religions also encourage fasting, such as Hinduism and Judaism. One can discuss how, across traditions, fasting teaches self-control and builds resilience. It can also foster appreciation and gratitude for food, empathy for people who are suffering and, of course, pride in accomplishing a fast. These concepts would be great discussion points, especially in middle schools.
Teaching about Ramadan and Eid is just one step educators can take toward making religious diversity a regular point of discussion in the classroom. See these other TT rescores for more on teaching about Islam, countering Islamophobia and bringing religious diversity into the classroom safely and legally.
Gauri Manglik and Sadaf Siddique are the founders of KitaabWorld, an online platform and bookstore through which they advocate for South Asian representation and diversity. In early 2017, Kitaabworld ran a “Counter Islamophobia Through Stories” campaign to create a framework for parents and educators to showcase positive representations of Muslims to children growing up in the United States.