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.
- 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.
- 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 space to voice their concerns and work towards action that empowers them to maintain their self-dignity, resistance, and well-being.
- 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.
- 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.