Fasting or Studying? Don’t Make Me Choose!
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Ramadan, the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, began on Thursday, March 23. It is a month of bodily and spiritual cleansing, forgiveness, self-restraint, and ultimate purity. Most people know about sawm, which is one of the five pillars of Islam: from dawn until sunset, Muslims restrain from eating, drinking, sexual activity, cursing, and any form of immoral behavior, including impure thoughts and ill intentions. Religious fasting is a difficult mental and physical endeavor, but it also promotes festivity, gratitude, and a higher connection with Allah (God).
With longer days, shorter nights, and hotter weather, fasting is already a great challenge for students. To prepare for the day, Muslims must eat suhoor before dawn and then pray the morning fajr salat. Alongside their mountainous workload and commonly irregular sleep schedules, this sudden intervention is a brutal change for Stuyvesant’s Muslim students. A study by the University of Amsterdam shows that over 50 percent of a sample of fasting students demonstrated reduced activity, less motivation to study, and weaker concentration. Though Ramadan is meant to be a physical and mental challenge, schools do not have to exacerbate Muslim students’ struggles.
Schools should do more to assist Muslim students with fasting. While many Muslim-majority countries close schools during the month of Ramadan, it would understandably be unfair to do the same in the United States. As a diverse country with religious freedom for all, it would be selfish to demand an entire month off during the school year and to shorten the summer vacation. However, around 12 percent of NYC public schools are Muslim students, and the DOE needs to assist this growing demographic. Thus, a one-week break at the beginning of Ramadan is a reasonable course of action.
It’s quite an abrupt transition to go from not fasting to fasting, and it can take a few days to adjust. Waking up to eat suhoor in the middle of the night can be disorienting during the first few days as well: eating at such an early hour can be unappealing, and going back to sleep for an hour before a long commute to school is a harsh schedule. Besides the physical health aspect, Ramadan is a time of celebration as well. Given the huge chunk of time reserved for school, Muslim families can hardly enjoy the month. Students come home, likely exhausted after maintaining extracurriculars and other responsibilities, to eat a rushed iftar, the first meal to break the fast at sunset, then go right back to work. A week-long break would give Muslims time to make traditional foods for iftar or to go to the mosque to pray taraweeh (additional prayers throughout the night) and just spend the holiday in peace like people observing other holidays are able to.
We have three breaks during the year: winter break, midwinter break, and spring break. Schools could easily substitute either midwinter or spring break for the Ramadan break; this would vary depending on which season Ramadan begins. One can relate this to the December vacation. The holiday break is something many look forward to, with festive sensations of spending time with family and enjoying traditions comfortably at home. Ramadan is similar, yet Muslim students currently cannot savor the celebration in the same way. It is about time these students’ needs are recognized by New York City’s public schools and even across the U.S. A one-week break at the beginning of Ramadan is a fair accommodation that would profoundly benefit those observing the holy month. It’s not asking for something that’s outside the capability of the DOE. It’s only fair to recognize one of Islam’s biggest traditions and the mental and physical endeavor that is placed on the youth.