Fairness, caring, trustworthy, citizenship and responsibility stickers decorated the wall above the blackboard in room 204. The students in the room kept quiet, as they quickly reviewed their notes, cramming for the pop quiz on the structure and history of atoms that awaited them. Remember, “honesty at all times counts – whether Ramadan or not, but more so now” said Mrs. Samira Tariq to her eighth-grade science class. Here at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) Full Time School, 8901 N. Menard Ave., in Morton Grove, students continuously work to instill the life habits and adapt to changes Ramadan brings each year.
The school offers math, science, social studies and English everyday, computers and library once a week, gym twice a week and Quran, Arabic and Islamic studies four times a week. Classes are shortened during Ramadan as the school ends an hour early at 2:30 p.m. instead of the regular 3:30 p.m. This, along with stopping after school activities, gives the faculty and students more time to focus on the commitments of Ramadan.
Muslims around the world fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, to learn self-restraint and develop taqwa, or God consciousness. From dawn to sunset, Muslims refrain from food, drink and sexual relations. And on a higher level of faith, they refrain from any words and actions that harm themselves and others.
Muslims strive to attain the blessings of Ramadan by increasing in worship and doing good deeds, which they believe count significantly more in the eyes of God than in any other month out of the year. During the last 10 days, Muslims intensify their worship, because on one of these nights – believed by Muslims to be superior than a thousand months - the Quran, the Holy Book of Muslims, was revealed to Prophet Mohammed.
Prior to Ramadan, the principal of MCC School, Habeeb Quadri said he wrote a letter to students that poses the question, “How can you and your parents work together to accomplish something?” The letter provides tips on “maximizing the blessings of Ramadan as a family.” Some of the tips include waking up before dawn and eating, called suhoor, reading Quran and making supplications for “family, relatives, friends, teachers, community and the world.” These practices increase blessings for the fasting person.
MCC school requests parents of first- and second-graders to write letters to the school if their child plans on fasting. Many kids do half-a-day fasts, so the school continues to provide hot lunch; although Quadri said this year a few kids from first and second grade are fasting. By fifth grade all of the kids attempt full fasts. While observing Ramadan, he encourages students to practice the sunnah, the actions and sayings of Prophet Mohammed, by giving students a short talk after zuhr, the noon day prayer. During these short talks, he informs students of practical “things they can implement,” such as making the azan, or the call to prayer, praying before suhoor and breaking the fast with dates.
Uzma Ahmad, an eighth-grader, says the talks give them “tidbits they don’t (normally) hear.” During Ramadan, Ahmad says she refrains from lying, backbiting and cheating and remains conscious of her actions. “It’s kind of like a revival,” she says of Ramadan, “everyone’s in a better mood – I guess because Shaitan’s not here,” referring to Satan being locked up as one of the distinguishing factors of this month.
Along with the principal, teachers take opportunities to assist students in adapting to the change Ramadan brings from lessening their homework burden to freshening spirituality in the classroom.
Mrs. Samira Tariq, Ahmad’s science and math teacher, explains how everyone’s sleeping schedule changes as they awake earlier for suhoor and sleep later because of extra prayers, called tarawih. Because “kids are not up to optimal level of performance,” she decreases the amount of homework and refrains from giving many tests.
Ahmad said, “I get tired. ...You know you’re fasting because you have faith in Allah.” Despite the energy setbacks, Ahmad appreciates the increased time spent with her family. Together her family eats suhoor, breaks the fast, called iftar, and attends tarawih, where the entire Quran is completed in the prayers during the month of Ramadan.
Teachers continue to encourage the students to take advantage of Ramadan. Ahmad said, “Since all the teachers are Muslim, you have support from everywhere.”
While enlightening her students with scientific reasons and facts, Tariq also looks to portray nature’s wonders in a spiritual light.
“Being Muslim makes you appreciate science; it is not an accident of nature,” she said, while marveling at the design of the universe. She said she wants kids to realize this fact and “at this stage, everything stays with them and will come back.”
Having attended MCC since pre-school, Nabila Patel, another eighth-grader, cites her school as the motivator behind her actions. Before Ramadan she was not attentive of her prayers, but a few days before the month began, she learned the importance and benefits of praying. Patel now prays regularly and looks forward to maintaining the practice of prayer. Her “favorite thing about Ramadan is that it brings you closer to Allah, not because you get double reward.” Patel says she understands the meaning of Ramadan more, “Fasting isn’t meaningful if you fight…If you do bad things, Allah has no need of your fast.”