Muslim Students Celebrate Ramadan During APs and Finals
By McKenna B. & Sophia H-K
May 20, 2019
In February, Spyglass covered the role of religion in secular schools. The article included interviews with teachers, students, and administrators and analyzed the intersections of religion, education, tolerance, and identity.
The article attempted shed light on how Westridge, a school that prides itself on inclusivity, can continue to support the complex religious identities of its students, given their various backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.
For some students, balancing academic and religious commitments can pose a particular challenge. This year, Ramadan started on May 6. Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. The intent is to purify oneself physically, emotionally, and spiritually through fasting, but it’s also an opportunity to connect oneself with something bigger: “Allah” or God.
Fasting for Ramadan is one of the “five pillars of Islam,” something required for those who are capable of doing so. During Ramadan, Muslims usually begin their fast by eating “suhoor,” the meal before dawn, and break their fast with “iftar,” the meal at sunset. Between these meals, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, gossiping, having sex, and other activities.
“Ramadan is the time where I test how far I am willing to go for the sake of religion,” said Zahra V., ‘21.
“It’s benefitted me in the past, and this is my first time completing, or hopefully completing, the full month [of fasting], so I can see the full potential of its benefits,” said Zaynab E., ‘20.
However, with Ramadan at the end of this school year, the Muslim students have to balance the challenge of fasting with the rigorous academic demands of exams.
“I don’t expect Westridge to accommodate Muslim students for a whole month because we’re such a small percentage of the population, but it is inconvenient to have to pick between school and religion, especially when [Westridge] is supposed to be all inclusive, and I have to prioritize school over religion sometimes, especially now,” said Zahra V., ‘21.
Zaynab E. ’20 continued, touching on the logistical difficulties. She cited the scheduling of school events and how it interferes with the breaking of her fast. “There are several ways Westridge could accommodate us, such as trying not to hold as many events that go past the time that I break my fast. Even if it’s hard to accommodate Muslim students and their families, I think school-wide awareness would make all the difference.”
While every Muslim observes Ramadan differently (if they choose to observe it at all), several Muslim students at Westridge can agree on this: actively practicing Islam can be difficult, and not just at Westridge.
According to Gallup and the National Center for Youth Law, Muslim students in the United States are 48% more likely than any other major religion to say they have experience religious or racial discrimination. In California, 28% of Muslim students were discriminated against by a teacher or administrator.
The Westridge students we spoke to feel safe, heard, and respected at school, but they agree there is more Westridge can do.
“Every year Ramadan is earlier and earlier, and this year it interferes with APs and finals. I want to do my religious duties, but I also want to perform well in school, and it’s hard to balance,” said Erisa R., ‘21, founder of Muslim Affinity, new for the 2019-2020 school year.
“I think it’s important for teachers to remember that there’s a lot going on for us and for them to try to be as accommodating as possible in regards to homework and projects,” echoed Summar B., ‘21.
According to Bonnie Martinez, Dean of Student Life, Westridge does not really have a formal procedure to address religion and religious accommodations. However, while it may not reflect in the experiences of Zaynab E., ‘20, and other Muslim students, Ms. Martinez explained that there is an understanding between the administration, students, and families that Westridge will do whatever it can to support its students and all aspects of their identities.
“As an advisor, I would always choose to look out for and respect my advisees who were celebrating Ramadan, and as a school I know Westridge is mindful of the overlap between school and religious practices."
“Whenever there’s a school event, [the administration] will check to make sure it doesn’t interfere with holidays like Eid, Yom Kippur, etc., and we always excuse absences for a religious holiday,” said Ms. Martinez.
With a new affinity group for Muslims coming in the 2019-2020 school year, Muslim students are optimistic about the future. Hopefully this affinity will lead to more discussion, not only among students, but also as a whole community, around the Muslim experience at Westridge moving forward.
If you’re looking for ways to learn about the Muslim community feel free to reach out to the heads of Muslim affinity, Erisa R., ‘21, and Aya R., ‘23, and continue to ask your friends around campus about their cultural and religious experiences.