Support for Muslim students and staff observing Ramadan: MicroCPD

In this week's video and text, Dr Rehana Parveen from Birmingham Law School gives tips on supporting students observing Ramadan.

As part of the University’s commitment to creating an environment of inclusive practice it is recognised that religious commitments will have an impact on teaching and learning. The University respects and supports the religious observance of all faiths and this month there is a focus on Islam because we have now entered into the month of Ramadan. 

Many of our Muslim students and colleagues will be spending this month in fasting and in other acts of religious worship. The month of Ramadan moves with the lunar calendar so each year it falls around 10 days earlier as the lunar calendar is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. This year Ramadan is due to begin on around the 13th April 2021 and will last for either 29 or 30 days. This is a month that for many will be physically challenging but spiritually extremely rewarding. 

Many of you are probably aware that your Muslim students and colleagues will be fasting each day during Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. Most likely you will be aware this will mean no drinks including no water and no food for around 17 hours each day. I imagine if you live and work in Birmingham you would have come across some Muslims so Ramadan is not something that is unheard of for you. 

I am a lecturer in the Law School and I am one of the members of staff who will be spending my Ramadan fasting. As physically challenging as the fasting itself is, Ramadan is so much more than the fasting. It is a hugely spiritual month in which we try to re-connect with God in many different ways. This can include spending time in reading more prayers, reciting more Quran, giving more charity and generally trying to shift our focus away from the usual busy lives that we lead throughout the other 11 months to a more tranquil, contemplative and reflective month during Ramadan.  Having said that we all have work or study commitments and deadlines that we still need to fulfil and it is not possible for most of to simply hibernate from our work or worldly responsibilities for a month. We therefore have to think about trying to achieve a new balance in this month that allows us to fulfil our commitments whilst meaningfully engaging with what is one of the most physically and spiritually challenging months in the Islamic calendar. Muslim students and colleagues can be supported in helping to achieve this balance. 

I have been talking with many of my Muslim students in the weeks leading up to Ramadan. I am a firm believer in including Ramadan in the planning of student’s studies and to discuss this with students to ensure they have given some thought as to how they will be managing the challenges ahead. Below I give some of my own examples of what I mean by including Ramadan in my plans and how students may be supported in their own challenges. 

First, I try to ensure that I front load as much work as I can so that I have less work commitments during Ramadan. Anything that can be done outside of Ramadan either before or after is planned in that way. You could talk to your students about how they are prioritising their work and what needs to be completed during Ramadan. Thereby ensuring that they use their time during this month effectively and do not end up missing important deadlines. 

Second, I know that the first few days of Ramadan are difficult for me as I suffer from headaches and when I fast I know at what points during the day I am more productive and at what points I am more tired. Students should be encouraged to reflect on understanding how unique the experience of Ramadan is for each of them and to work in harmony with themselves. They should work at times and in patterns that will be the most productive for them individually. This leads more to the next point which I think is really important for students. 

Students must think about their daily study routine. Getting up for a pre-dawn meal (at around 4am) means that it is difficult to go back to sleep and then wake up again early. In addition trying to give time to the other acts of worship and reflection mean that my daily routine in Ramadan changes quite significantly. I change my work pattern in as much as I am able to in a way that suits my new routine of fasting and worship.  Similarly students should be encouraged to think about the changes they are making to their daily routines. Some students may, for example, decide they work better after having eaten in the evening and stay awake working throughout the night. Others may wish to take breaks or naps during the day. Students may feel they wish to work in shorter bursts of time rather than the longer periods they are used to. Getting into a daily routine that works for them is important as it will mean students are less likely to feel overwhelmed. 

As lecturers, not only can we talk to our students about their study routines, but we can also consider our own early planning to include Ramadan. For example, when it comes to assessment deadlines for the next academic year or the submission and preparation of particular pieces of work can we factor Ramadan into our plans?  If we do have any assessments taking place around this period is it possible that they can be moved to a couple of weeks after Ramadan? Remember next year Ramadan will fall earlier and will begin around 1st April 2022. Is it possible that we can decrease the workload during Ramadan or not hold unnecessary meetings during this time period? If nothing else the covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated there are lots of different ways of working, lots of ways of accommodating the multiple needs and responsibilities we all have and still achieve amazing results. In fact, we make it possible for many more of us to achieve those amazing results. 

Ramadan will end this year around 12th May when there will be the celebration of Eid. This is a big celebration for Muslims and most Muslim students and colleagues will wish to take that day off from their studies, work or assessments. You will need to check nearer to the time exactly what day Eid falls on but it would be wise not to plan any significant student activities for that day in particular. 

As a final note, we should be aware that not all Muslims who identify as Muslim will necessarily be fasting throughout this month. This may be due to physical or mental health reasons.  Women during their days of menstruation do not fast. Or it may simply be a case that the individual chooses not to fast. We should not assume that every Muslim student is fasting and as is the case with any other student, we should try to support students based on their individual needs. 

There are more resources available to help support students during Ramadan including a video aimed specifically at students with top tips for studying whilst fasting. If any of my colleagues, whether you are personally fasting or not, would like to talk to me about any of the issues explored in this resource I am very happy to talk to you and offer you support, guidance or just a chat as needed.