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Building a positive school culture for Muslim students during Ramadan



Affirming Muslim identities in school

As Muslims begin observing Ramadan, it’s a good time to consider the importance of building a strong sense of belonging at school. Affirming the identities of Muslim students and all minoritized and racialized learners is a way of creating a positive classroom culture.

Creating opportunities for understanding

Fostering opportunities to understand inequities, going beyond stories of racism and spotlighting greatness and achievement all matter. Over the last 10 years, I have led workshops on Ramadan, Muslims and Islamophobia with district school boards, at universities and at community events.

Increase of workshops and presentations

In the past two years, I have received a considerable number of requests for workshops and presentations. Unfortunately, I believe, it took the death of four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in a “premeditated” vehicle attack in June 2021, for significant strides to be taken to educate Canadians about Islam and Muslims, and to substantiate that Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiments are real. School boards have started to pay more attention to their Muslim students’ identities, and also to the existence of strong explicit and implicit anti-Muslim biases among students and teachers.

Creating Safe spaces for Muslim youth

Muslim youth need spaces in their communities, including their schools, where they are free to be themselves and do not have to worry about facing prejudice. Youth need their schools to be safe havens to build their positive sense of self.

Unfavourable views of Islam prevalent across the country

Even though Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in Canada, a recent study from the Angus Reid Institute found “unfavourable views of Islam prevalent across the country.” Results were based on a February 2023 online survey among a representative randomized sample of 1,623 Canadian adults.

Peel District School Board has the highest concentration of Muslim students in Ontario

In Ontario, Muslim students account for over 20 per cent of the student body in some school boards. The Peel District School Board has the highest concentration of Muslim students in the province. And yet, as a parent with a child in a Peel daycare, I’ve noticed sparse identity-affirming activities offered in classrooms. This is in contrast to festivities during Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween, such as wearing different colour outfits to commemorate the day and lots of arts and crafts.

Making public schools spaces for all cultures and backgrounds

I am not saying that such inclusive diversity-related practices should become an equity detour or a replacement for confronting inequities and anti-Muslim sentiments. Affrming cultural activities are merely entry points to help schools start the ideological work required to combat Islamophobia. Research from 2012 in the United States found that the lack of identity-building in public schools is one of the reasons for a rise of Islamic schools.

Creating culturally appropriate decorations

Classroom or hallway decorations, and Ramadan songs in the announcements, can help lift the spirits of Muslim students during the month-long fast. Decorations of the crescent moon can work as a culturally appropriate decoration in public schools: it signifies the beginning of a month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Lanterns are another example. In Muslim-majority countries, lanterns are hung from windows, balconies and in public spaces and create a magical milieu. Music can provide positive transcultural learning.

Celebrating students’ cultures

Educators can also use the language of a student’s culture to greet them on the day of their celebration. Studies suggest using a student’s home language provides a deeper connection between students and their school experience. Another way to ignite the Ramadan spirit is to enlist the help of Muslim parents or partner with local mosques to create loot bags filled with inexpensive items. These could be for Muslim students and also non-Muslims who would like one.

Providing spaces for students

Fasting can be difficult for most kids, and doing it alone while they see other friends eating can make it more challenging. One school in London, Ont. made a fasting club and attracted 15 students to provide camaraderie, and offered activities to help students keep their minds off hunger.

Creating intercultural understanding

Islam and Ramadan awareness may not stop anti-Muslim sentiments for some, however, these are stepping stones to starting deeper conversations and connections. Cross-cultural exchange can be complex and challenging for teachers. Building a positive school culture, especially around celebrations, needs to be a team effort by all educational partners: teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members.



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