ASCL has worked with Imams, Islamic Scholars, experts, Muslim Chaplains in the education sector and education leaders to produce this information for schools. It is designed to help initiate discussions with Muslim students on how best they can fulfil their Islamic obligations during Ramadan, enabling them to make decisions for themselves.
- The combination of long days, higher temperatures, and exams and tests will put extra pressure on young Muslims however they decide to observe Ramadan.
- Observing Ramadan may bring many benefits to individuals and communities, but also has the potential to cause the individual temporary hardship through hunger and lack of liquids during fasting hours which may impact on physical wellbeing and cognitive performance.
- Unless there are legitimate safeguarding concerns, schools and colleges should not dictate to children who are considered old enough, or their families, how they observe Ramadan which is a personal decision. Children and families should be informed of the flexibility Islamic Law offers to delay or exempt themselves from fasting and late-night prayers if they believe their performance in exams and tests could be affected.
- Islam encourages critical reasoning and while individuals may seek advice from religious leaders, they have the right to make their own decision. It is intended that the information in this paper will be used as a positive opportunity for engagement with students to make these important decisions for themselves.
- Alongside any other relevant factors, young Muslims and families, particularly those sitting exams and tests this summer, will need to balance their obligations as Muslims with the importance of exams for their future when deciding how to observe Ramadan this year. The pursuit of education is a religious and moral duty for Muslims of both genders.
- There was agreement from the imams, Islamic scholars, experts, chaplains and leaders we consulted that it is essential schools and colleges help support dialogue with Muslim students and families. Muslim students, their families, and schools and colleges should be aware that there is a wide and diverse range of opinions on how to observe Ramadan and from what age.
If there are concerns about a child or young person, schools and colleges have an overriding safeguarding duty and should apply judgement and common sense on a case-by-case basis.
If there are signs of dehydration or exhaustion, they must advise the young person to terminate the fast immediately by drinking some water. They can be reassured that in this situation, Islamic rulings allow them to break their fast and make it up later.
Some young people may feel guilty even though they feel that it is not in their best interests to fast, while others may want to fast because they do not want to miss the rewards of Ramadan.
Schools should be aware of these possibilities and apply judgement to determine where safeguarding or wellbeing issues arise.
Age at which fasting is obligated or recommended
Fasting is only obligatory under Islamic tradition when a child becomes an adult. However, jurists differ over when this is. It is recommended for children to practise shorter and partial fasts in order to train them for the full fasting when they become adults.
Parents and carers should be made aware of the following points of view to facilitate their decision-making:
- The ‘biological maturity’ view: children become adults when they reach physical or biological maturity, that is, puberty. According to this view, children are expected to fast at the age of 15, possibly earlier.
- The ‘intellectual maturity’ view: children become adults upon attaining intellectual maturity in addition to biological maturity. According to this view, the expectation to fast will occur at some point between the ages of 16-19. Fasting, including partial fasting, is only recommended before this.
Ramadan, performance and exemptions
Fasting and staying up late for prayers may affect memory, focus, concentration and academic performance. There is a lot of clear research about the effects of hydration, dehydration and nutrition on performance but a paucity of research specific to students observing Ramadan. Anecdotally, some Muslim pupils say that fasting enhances their performance, particularly if they have been used to it for some years. There is huge enthusiasm for fasting and some young people, who have made a positive decision to fast, say they feel energised during Ramadan.
Sleep deprivation should also be considered and may be the biggest factor affecting performance for children and young people including those who are both fasting and observing prayers at night, as well as those too young to fast but who are celebrating with their families.
Do students taking GCSEs and A levels, fall into the category of ‘hardship’?
Some Muslim jurists allow students who are experiencing hardship to break their fast during Ramadan (and make up the days later), if it affects their ability to revise and study. The Islamic scholars, experts, chaplains and leaders consulted by ASCL thought that sitting important examinations can be an exemption from fasting when a student fears that fasting will affect his or her performance adversely.