Houston-area schools prepare to welcome Muslim students during Ramadan

When 18-year-old Amirah Khan attended secular schools in College Station and North Texas, she didn’t mind being asked by her peers why she didn’t eat or drink while she sat in the cafeteria during the month of Ramadan.

“I actually like talking about Ramadan,” she said. “I’m able to educate them about my culture and my faith, which has brought us closer.”

Houston-area educators are preparing to make accommodations for Muslim children who are fasting during the day of the month-long vacation that begins Friday evening. Fasting, an act of worship in Islam, helps Muslims focus on their faith during Ramadan, but can cause students to have difficulty concentrating and performing physical tasks.

Thoughtful modifications to the school day can help many continue to attend classes successfully, ecperts said.

“As a hugely diverse school district, we encourage our campus leadership to be culturally aware and responsive to the needs of their students, especially during times of religious observances,” said Fort Spokesperson Sherry Williams. Bend ISD. “Campus principals, along with their school leadership teams, disseminate information and implement best practices for their students observing holy days such as Ramadan.”

Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, is the holiest month in Islam. In Islamic tradition, it was one of the last 10 days of Ramadan that God revealed the Quran to Muhammad. With over 250,000 Muslims in the Houston area, many students here observe the holiday.

Muslims who have not yet reached puberty are not required to fast, however, some may choose to try. Younger children can also fast half a day to reach a full day when they are older. Once children enter high school, they often have to pray during the school day.

Muslims also need to focus on controlling their emotions and being kind during the month, Khan said, which can be difficult in high-stress environments, like school.

“In public school there is conflict, chaos and unrest,” she said. “I had to remember to control my temper and maintain respect from others.”

Roger Yelton, executive director of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, said the organization issues notices to schools to inform administrators about vacations. It also offers sample letters for parents to request that their students be excused from physical activities, such as recess.

Houston CIOs Alief, Alvin, Channelview, Friendswood and Katy also said they offer similar flexibility during Ramadan.

“HISD students requiring religious accommodations are encouraged to communicate and collaborate with their school administrators to establish the alternatives necessary to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment,” said Luis A. Morales, gatekeeper. word of the HISD. “The arrangements will vary from school to school, depending on the spaces and resources available.”

Alvin ISD Elementary students are allowed to do other activities during lunch and can replace art or music with a physical education class, if needed, spokeswoman Renae Rivas said. In colleges and high schools, the district offers an alternative space for students who wish to avoid the cafeteria during lunch.

Channelview ISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said the school system is doing everything it can to ensure students can continue to learn “in a way that will allow them to practice the traditions of their religion.”

“Once a family informs us, campus principals and district leaders further discuss a learning plan that will meet the student’s needs during Ramadan,” she said.

Similarly, Katy ISD encourages families to “work with their campus administrators so they can make the necessary accommodations and ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable during the school day,” said said Maria Corrales Dipetta, spokeswoman for the district.

Friendswood ISD offers excused absences for religious holidays if a parent decides it would be best for their child to stay home, spokeswoman Dayna Owen said.

Annette Khan, Amirah’s mother, wants public schools to do more to educate their communities about Islam and Ramadan.

“It should be a school-wide thing because teachers can easily overlook it,” the mother-of-seven said. “Children are the most affected by their peers. Some (Muslim) kids will explain it, but others may not want to discuss it and will be teased.

Although her peers have been respectful of her religious practices, Amirah Khan said celebrating Ramadan in public school “doesn’t compare” to her experience at the private Islamic High School in Houston that she now attends.

“Everyone here grew up fasting,” she said. “Being able to share this with everyone gives us something to relate to.”

Darul Arqam Academy North has an early hour off during Ramadan so children can go home to nap before evening prayers. There is also a daily prayer scheduled at 2 p.m. year-round.

The students are also working towards another goal of giving back to the “needy as much as possible”, said Mohammed Raiyan, a 12th grader at the school.

The school mosque, like many others in the area, offers a free meal to break the daily fast during the holy month. Anyone wishing to join is welcome. The practice enables devotees to connect with their community and support themselves.

The fast is also meant to help Muslims understand the struggles others are going through, such as food insecurity, said ninth-grader Rawan Emad.

“Ramadan is not just a month of fasting, but of coming together and sharing with everyone,” said Amirah Khan. “I hope Ramadan can bring us together as people and as citizens of our country, because our diversity is what makes us stronger.”

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