The Twin Cities and Robbinsdale Area Schools continue to welcome people of the Muslim faith to our communities and schools. Fowsiya Dahir and Aiysha Mustapha, both Muslim and members of the district’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) team, recently spoke about the approaches they take to the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Saturday, April 2, 2022.
Ms. Mustapha and Ms. Fowsiya understand that non-Muslims are often curious about various practices of Islam. They welcomed the opportunity to share information about Ramadan, why it is important to Muslims, and how their families – from very different places – keep the customs of this time.
One of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan focuses on self-purification and enhancing community. According to Cultural Awareness International, “The obligations of Ramadan act as spiritual STOP signs. For just one month, Muslims set their personal routines and comforts aside and make faith in [Allah] the priority. When fasting from food, adherents experience hunger. . . . Hunger is a physical reminder of the suffering of those who have less, which evokes gratitude for even the simplest things, like food.”
Fasting is perhaps the best-known aspect of Ramadan, taking place every day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is a component of many faith traditions other than Islam; these include Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Cultural Awareness International notes that “even within a religion, different denominations or sects may fast differently or at different times.”
Fowsiya Dahir is originally from Somalia, a country she describes as “conservative” when it comes to religion. Her family of nine rises early to have a small meal, or Sahur, before the sun comes up. This can be as early as 4 a.m., and the meal is followed by prayer.
Her youngest child, a freshman at Armstrong High School, participates fully in the Ramadan fast. Ms. Fowsiya says her kids began learning about Ramadan around the age of 7 and were excited to take part when they could. Islam exempts some people from the obligation of fasting, including youngsters through age 14, the elderly, and nursing or menstruating women.
Special (Tarawih) prayers continue throughout the day. After the sun sets, the evening meal of Iftar is a time for the entire family to gather in community and, Ms. Fowsiya says, “eat a lot of good food.” Following Iftar, many attend the masjid, or mosque, where they may eat another meal.
Aiysha Mustapha, also a member of the FACE team, grew up in New Jersey, with both Muslim and Christian roots. She and her husband, who is from West Africa, have six children, including two attending Robbinsdale Area Schools. Ms. Mustapha encourages her teenagers to ask questions and learn more about the faith. She says Ramadan is a good time for talking about Islam and its pillars and practices.
“A lot of Ramadan is about giving to the poor and thinking of others. It’s said that the gates of heaven are open during this time.”
Ms. Mustapha says with fewer Muslims in the Twin Cities than in the New Jersey city where she grew up, it’s sometimes harder to keep the customs. “Being a Muslim in this country is different than it is everywhere else.”
She acknowledges that while Ramadan is typically “a time to reflect and connect with Allah,” she needs to stay busy with her job and volunteer work. She can find it difficult to slow down.
“I do a lot more meditating and prayer. It’s harder to obey the tenets when you’re an activist.” Still, her family gathers each evening after sunset for the Iftar meal.
After the long month of daily fasting, Muslims across the world celebrate Eid (pronounced “eed”) al-Fitr – literally, “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” Eid includes prayer, feasting, dressing up and, in some places, decorating with lights. Muslims greet each other with Eid Mubarak, which is Arabic for "Blessed Eid."
Students and staff who practice Islam may avoid the lunchroom during the month of Ramadan. They may also be less excited to participate in gym, recess, or other intense physical activity.