This year Ramadan falls during the GCSE and A level ‘exam season’. 3,000 schools in England & Wales have sent guidance to Muslim homes about fasting during exams. Is this “over-accommodating” for ethnic minorities; or of Islam’s incompatibility with the modern world?
The Islamic calendar is “lunar”, moving through the year by increments. So this year, for the first time in three decades, Ramadan clashes with British exam weeks and Head Teachers are understandably concerned about the impact of fasting on their students’ wellbeing and grades.
Islam – incompatible with the modern world?
The fact this conversation is happening at all both begs this question and suggests an answer; for example if a Muslim lives in either of the arctic circles, the moon never rises or sets during the month; depending on which month of the year Ramadan falls.
Public religious practise in secular society
As a former teacher myself (and someone who has helped schools devise a policy), I know that religious observance is a delicate area; for example when is a student old enough (and fit enough) to fast? What when the young person wants to fast but their parents don’t want them to or vice versa?
You sometimes get the “stroppy” parents who take the view that the system should bend to their whims in a bid to make “white Britain” accommodate and eventually capitulate (?); which is an anti-assimilation position to take.
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) discussed the issue with Muslim clerics who advised that there is ‘scope for some relaxation’. This is because Islamic teaching permits exemptions if it might harm you (4:29) i.e. if you are too old; too young (i.e. under puberty); ill; travelling; menstruating; pregnant; wet-nursing; engaged in strenuous occupation. Fasting can be observed at a later time (2:185) or by doing good instead (2:184).
Ramadan was originally only the name of a month in the lunar calendar of the ancient Arabian Gulf. The prophet Muhammed inaugurated it as an annual fast, which has taken precedence for this month. So what originated as a name of a month has become the name of a fast, which has become a permanent fixture in the Islamic calendar and one of the five ‘pillars’ or required practises of Islam.
When I lived in the Middle East – Islam’s spiritual home – it became clear to me that Ramadan is almost designed for societies that can orientate themselves around such practises, which – to be performed properly – need the whole community to flex to make it practicable; schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, government offices, prisons, the police etc.
The aim of the Islamic fast that’s undertaken in Ramadan, is a spiritual exercise achieved through the discipline of fasting in order to draw nearer to God. “The fast” as Muslims call it, means no food or liquid (for the extra keen not even your own saliva) is taken in, during the daylight hours from sunrise to sunset for a lunar month; which starts when the new moon is sighted and ends when the next new moon is seen.
Source: Javier Espinoza (Education Editor) – The Daily Telegraph, Sat 4 June 2016, page 12