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High School Students Observe Ramadan - 2003-11-21

The sighting of the new moon early this week officially ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – a month of fasting, worship and contemplation observed by Islamic faithful the world over. On today’s edition of New American Voices, we visit a local high school in the Washington area to find out how Muslim students have been meeting the special requirements of Ramadan in an American public school environment.

Annandale High School in Northern Virginia, about a 20-minute car ride from the capital, has a student population of 2,500, of which about 250, or ten percent, are Muslims. Mary Wolf, a long-time administrative assistant at Annandale, explains that during Ramadan, the school makes special provisions for its Muslim students, who fast during the day.

“During the lunchtimes we have either the library open for them, to do studies, or we have two rooms set aside that they’re allowed to go to, so that they will not have to be in the lunchroom during their lunch. At this time we even happen to have a “Student of the Quarter”, which is an ice-cream social for those kids who make A and B students, and for our Ramadan students we will give them a slip of paper and they can come in and pick up their ice cream or candy bar later -– they’ll give them something, so they won’t have to lose out, even though this happened to fall during the month of Ramadan. They still get their benefit of being recognized as Student of the Quarter.”

About a dozen Muslim students were taking advantage of one of the rooms set aside for them during the period the other kids were eating lunch. They sat in small groups, chatting and teasing each other. One or two were catching up on homework. Senior Rana Noureldayem, who had immigrated to the Washington area with her family from northern Sudan five years ago, says the students at Annandale High School generally are very accepting of the special needs of their Muslim friends during Ramadan.

“Well, yes, most of them, because there are so many Muslims in this school, so that basically everybody knows about Ramadan, how we fast, and how it goes.”

Sixteen-year-old Sara Yusef, also from Sudan, agrees that Annandale High School is a welcoming place where most of the students know about the special requirements of Muslims during the holy month. And even if they do not, she says, there are ample opportunities to explain and educate.

“They are, like, fine with us, they understand what we’re doing. In the class sometimes if the teacher doesn’t understand, they ask, like, what’s Ramadan, and what do you do, and how do you guys like fasting and stuff.”

Seventeen-year-old Monira Begum, a junior who came with her family from Pakistan two and a half years ago, says that fasting during the thirty days of Ramadan is not really a hardship for her.

Ya, it is sometimes, but usually it’s not, it’s kind of fun. Like after fasting and stuff there’s going to be a big Eid, so it’s kind of fun. It’s good, it’s not like that hard, like other students are eating and I’m not eating. It’s not like that.”

Many of Annandale High School’s Muslim students congregate in the library during lunch, taking advantage of the bank of computers they have at their disposal there. One of them is sixteen-year-old Mudisir Quereshi, whose family immigrated to America from Pakistan three years ago. At the time, Mudisir says, he knew virtually no English, but he is fluent in the language now after two years of courses in the school’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program. Mudisir says the school makes sure that everybody is aware that Ramadan is a special time for the Muslim students.

“They make an announcement in the school, so that like everybody knows what we’re doing.”

Mudisir makes the point that in addition to fasting, Ramadan involves self-control in other areas of behavior, as well.

“When you fast, you’re controlling yourself. It’s not like … you go out there, you can’t fight with people, you can’t curse that much – you can’t curse at all, actually. Like if somebody’s really bugging you, that’s the challenge, you gotta hold yourself, you gotta hold it, you know. No bad stuff, no fighting, don’t show off, nothing like that, just be yourself, you know.”

Though he accepts the requirements of Ramadan as a matter of course, Mudisir Quereshi, like the other Muslim students, looks forward to the festival of Eid marking the end of the month of fasting and self-denial.

“You dress up in new clothes, everybody wears new clothes, it’s kind of like Thanksgiving, you go to your friend’s house and eat. Yeah.”

Just a few days from now Mudisir, Rada, Sara, and all the other Muslim students at Annandale High School will be preparing to break their month-long fast and celebrate Eid with their families and friends. Then on Thursday, most of them will again be celebrating – this time, the all-American feast day of Thanksgiving.

English Feature #7-38077 Broadcast November 24, 2003