Ramadan and Exam Season: Supporting our Peers

Written by: Julia

Edited by: Megh

Visual by: Zoe

It’s that time of year again. Come May, tests and exams start rolling in, leaving students with little space to breathe. While almost all students suffer from the onslaught of exam season, others must also worry about maintaining a sunrise-to-sunset fast during this physically and mentally challenging time.

Ramadan, a month-long celebration of prayer and reflection, falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Hence, the dates of Ramadan vary from year to year, with it commencing on the 13th of April and ending on the 12th of May in 2021. Adherents of Islam who participate in Ramadan have a meal before the sun rises, called suhoor, and iftar, a fast-breaking meal at dusk. These meals typically take place at around three to four in the morning and between six to ten in the evening, leaving a long fourteen to eighteen hour fasting period during the day. Any types of food and beverage, including water and coffee, are not permitted between these meals. This fast acts as a way for adherents of Islam to be reminded of the less fortunate and to reinforce feelings of gratitude and empathy. Thus, having to actively participate in classes and being able to keep up with countless assignments may pose a large challenge to those observing this holy festival.

Cinta, a senior, has been fasting since the age of 7. This early start has allowed her body to get used to the physical stress that may come with prolonged fasting, but she still finds that exam seasons are difficult to get through. She finds that “exam season can be extremely challenging both mentally and physically; we are to wake up before sunrise to eat which does interrupt my sleep.” Although parents will sometimes let children take a break from fasting during exam seasons in order to promote academic achievement, some students may not feel comfortable with breaking their fasts for personal reasons. 

To add to this, freshman Ibrahim points out that “this is the first time that freshmen will be fasting during exam season,” and he, like Cinta, worries about the lack of sleep that may come with waking up at dawn in order to take suhoor. However, he is optimistic that this year’s fast will be easier to get through as school remains online, thereby eliminating the extra physical exertion and fatigue that comes with face-to-face classes.

On the other hand, from a teacher’s perspective, Mr. Khan revisits his own childhood years and remembers complaining about “how hard it [Ramadan] was, how unfair it was, and how different it made me feel from everyone else.” As he matured, however, he received some invaluable advice: “Ramadan is meant to remind us that time and the world does not stop because we are fasting; as the moon waxes and wanes, we’re meant to understand that our fast is a sacrifice. The difficulty is the point. Doing well will require a little more effort, a little more discipline, a little more compassion for yourself and others. A point here or there on an exam or project is a small sacrifice for what you gain as you reflect on those whose hunger is not a choice and is not satiated with a feast when the sun sets.” In addition, Ms. Sarkawi emphasizes allyship and reminds students to be mindful of their peers as Muslim prayers can take place during noon-time and even class hours. She advises for teachers to offer flexible assessment options and provide students with little breaks here and there to boost focus and concentration during these challenging times. Thus, although a sixteen-hour fast is definitely incredibly stressful on one’s physical and mental health, both Mr. Khan and Ms. Sarkawi remind us that Ramadan is ultimately a sacrifice and a period of reflection: a ritual that encapsulates the ideas of empathy, love, compassion and community. 

This coincidence of Ramadan and exam season has also made waves internationally. In an article titled “2021 AP Exams Show the College Board Doesn’t Care Enough About Students” published by Teen Vogue, several seniors have advocated for a change in date of AP exams. CollegeBoard had originally scheduled for the AP Government, Computer Science Principles and Statistics exams to take place on March 13, coinciding with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. However, thousands of complaints were vocalized through social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok forcing CollegeBoard to release a statement informing students that the May 13 exams were to be rescheduled to a later date.

While all this goes to show that significant progress is being made to accommodate the needs of fellow Muslim students, there are large hurdles yet to be overcome. This is a demanding time for all, for some more than others; keep trying your best and always watch out for someone who looks like they may be needing support or help. We are one big Bearcat family: at ISM, we celebrate both success and diversity and strive to highlight and empathize with some of the challenges that face our community’s minority groups. Try and see how you are able to support your fellow Bearcats through this difficult yet fulfilling holy month.

Eid Murabak!