Hey Family, it’s Khalilah here. You know our goal is to include the entire voice of the Diaspora on this site and so today, I want you to welcome our guest blogger Zakiyah Ansari.
So let me give FULL DISCLOSURE as to how I came to ask Zakiyah to write for us. I was talking with one of my dear sister friends, who grew up in a muslim household. She was telling me about the intricacies of being Muslim and Black American and the ways in which Black American Muslims were treated by Middle Eastern Muslims or as she would say, they would say, “real muslims.” After that conversation, I realized that I, CREAD had totally ignored Ramadan. And if I’m honest, it’s because I didn’t see it as “Black” thing. It was a “Muslim” thing. And Muslims, real muslims are Middle Eastern.
Now that’s crazy to me, because I grew up with Black American Muslims, went to school with them when I lived in Philly, My Baba in my head and spirit is Malcolm X the ultimate Black muslim. And listen I love me some Farrakhan…clutch your pearls. You’ll be ok. And finally, when I read about the brutal assault and murder of 17 year old Nabra Hassanen in Virginia, I was motivated to action. I reached out to the Muslim people in my circle and asked if they would write about Ramadan, education, culture, anything they wanted to and Zakiyah Ansari answered my request. I will forever be grateful to her for doing so.
“The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity;”…Paola Freire
It is Ramadan – you know it because you may have seen something on tv or read it in the paper. And so as a parent advocate and Muslim mother I have a few questions for you:
How has your school used this time to be culturally responsive to the experiences of the Muslim community? If you are a teacher, what have you done in your class? Have you acknowledged Ramadan? Have you researched Ramadan? And have you shared with your students, regardless of if you have a Muslim student or colleague, about the history, tenets and reason why we celebrate Ramadan?
If not, I want to encourage you to because though Ramadan ends tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to engage in dialog around it has passed.
There are over 100,000 Muslim students who attend NYC public schools. Whether or not you have children in your class who are Muslim, I believe you should include Ramadan as part of your teaching and that anyone who interacts with children in a school building should look up and learn about Ramadan and its importance in the Muslim faith. I would hope that teachers know more about Ramadan than they did when my daughters were in school 15 years ago. After all, there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The onus to have a rich conversation about Ramadan and Islam should not fall only on the Muslim students, families or staff in your school.
The onus falls on you.
In the climate we live in, where a heightened anti-Muslim sentiment spread through out the country after 9/11 and the ways that #45 has escalated Islamophobia, it is the responsibility of our schools to acknowledge and celebrate the wide, beautiful, array of cultural diversity that people of the Muslim faith bring to our communities. Luckily, I am here to help you begin your journey of understanding.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) it lasts for 29 to 30 days. During this time Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. We rise early for a pre-dawn meal “suhoor” this time of the year. That’s around 3 a.m., right before the Fajr prayer and then we have an “Iftar” meal right after the sunset prayer of “Maghrib”.
The time spent fasting is meant to be used for prayer, charity, spirituality, and for purifying the mind and body. It’s a time to be grateful and connected to family and faith. Every hunger pain you may experience during any given day during Ramadan is a reminder of the homeless and marginalized communities that are ignored. You are grateful because you know at the end of the day when the sun sets you will have food to eat. However, you know there is no guarantee that the homeless person you saw on the train or laid out on the sidewalk will. Therefore, during Ramadan, you give of your time and congregate at the mosques with friends, family and others connected by a deep faith and commitment.
In the short time that I started this blog post and submitted it, the Muslim community has experienced 2 acts of violence both locally and internationally. One was the mowing down of multiple Muslim worshippers during Ramadan in London, killing one person. The other was the brutal kidnapping and murder of 17-year old Nabra Hassanen in Virginia who was attacked after leaving the mosque with friends.
Ramadan, just like other religious beliefs, should be seen as an opportunity to teach tolerance, diversity, respect and bring an awareness of others. That’s a powerful lesson that we choose to remind ourselves of every year during Ramadan and it’s a lesson that’s worth sharing and centering in our communities and classrooms. If our schools don’t begin to humanize Muslims, our faith, our community and love, and to teach how ignorance and violence like what we saw this past week breeds hate, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to our children and our communities.
As Ramadan is coming to a close, I want you to think back over the last month and ask yourself; Did the Muslims students in your school have less energy or struggle to pay attention? Was your school responsive? Was your class? Did you allow students the option to not have to participate in strenuous gym activities? Was/Is there a designated space for your students to make prayer? Are there options for students who prefer not to be in the lunchroom during lunchtime? These are just some of the questions that schools, and more importantly individual teachers, should be asking themselves.
I have to admit, my family was very fortunate to have had access to some amazing educators that got it. Ms. Nicole Thomas who was not Muslim, was a 4th grade teacher at PS 219 in Brooklyn where all of my children attended. She touched the lives of all 8 of my children. She saw all her students as her own children. When it was Ramadan, she would allow my daughters to help her in class during lunch so they wouldn’t have to be around all of the kids asking them why they aren’t eating. She also asked them to explain what Ramadan was for their classmates so they had a better understanding. One of my daughters gave a presentation. It made life so much easier and it didn’t make my children feel weird. They actually felt special, validated and were given another support system outside of home.
As educators, I believe it is important that you acknowledge and embrace the cultural norms and experiences of the varied cultures and identities in your classroom as well as addressing the varied misconceptions that are perpetuated through fear and ignorance. There are many misconceptions about Ramadan that stemsfrom the misconceptions about Muslims. The rhetoric is deafening and painful and we live in a time where some teachers are as insensitive and ignorant to Islam as to snatch a hijab off of a student, like what happened in the Bronx last month. Muslim families are understandably nervous about wearing hijabs for fear of the escalated harassment of Muslim women like what happened in Portland. And so what better place to educate our communities, but in their schools and to use Ramadan as a teaching tool.
And just as Christians give up luxuries for lent and Jewish people fast on Yom Kippur, I’m sure educators can make connections to our sacrifice of fasting and the reward at the end of a 3-day feast, “Eid al Fitr.” Use this time as an opportunity to create solidarity amongst students challenging non-Muslim students and yourself to give up playing video games or sweets.
In a few days, Muslims across the world will begin the 3-day feast and it is my hope that this post prepares you for next year while inspiring others not to wait. It is my hope that after reading this you are intentional about bringing education on the Muslim community into your classrooms and schools and possibly even bring the children into a mosque to experience what it feels like to build relationships across difference.
As for next year, Ramadan is from May 15th, 2018 until June 14th, 2018 and I offer to you, that you should begin planning now for the ways you can honor the spirit of Ramadan in our classrooms and schools.
If you teach elementary aged children, maybe these books or lessons from Scholastic can help you introduce Ramadan to your students. If you teach secondary aged children, hopefully teaching tolerance has resources you will find useful. You might consider taking your students to visit a local mosque or visit a cultural institution such as the Islamic Cultural Center of New York or the Muslim American Society Youth Center. Currently, the Museum of the City of New York has a Muslim in New York exhibition that highlights through pictures, the thriving Muslim communities in NYC.
If all of this seems to overwhelming, let’s start small. Check your school calendar at the beginning of the year, ensure that you highlight Ramadan so that you might prevent another incident like what happened at Brooklyn Tech. Prepare for ways to support Muslim students by providing space, solace and love during one of our holiest times.