April 13, 2021

How you can support students observing Ramadan during exams

Advice from UCalgary’s Faith and Spirituality Centre and members of our local community

The timing of Ramadan varies each year, determined by the lunar calendar (the first sighting of the crescent moon). This year, it is expected to begin the evening of April 13 and end May 12, extending throughout the entirety of UCalgary’s exam period (April 19 to 29).  

During this time, those of Islamic faith fast from sunrise to sunset, and focus on contemplation and reflection. The fasting includes no drinking or eating, and also abstaining from other habits, such as smoking. This time might also be spent in prayer, reading the Qur'an or giving to charity. Eid al-Fitr is the celebration of the end of this fasting period. 

View a special message from Faith and Spirituality Centre faith representatives Imam Fayaz Tilly and Ustada Noureen Tilly as they share a little about this religious holiday and wish all those observing it a peaceful and safe Ramadan.

“This year, with Ramadan observances overlapping completely with the exam period, it is more important than ever that supports are provided to our Muslim community,” says Sarah Ashton, the pluralistic engagement co-ordinator for UCalgary’s Faith and Spirituality Centre (FSC). “For many students, that means studying and taking exams during a time when they may not be at their peak performance. One of the most important actions is to show compassion and support for these students.”   

Students observing this religious holiday may be experiencing lack of energy, patience and concentration because of fasting and interrupted sleep schedules. The FSC recommends a few ways our community can support students during this time:

  • Be cognizant of classes during sunrise and sunset, as these are the times of breaking the fast and of prayer.  

  • If an exam is scheduled in the late afternoon or evening in the student's time zone, be aware that fasting students may be a bit fatigued or distracted. If a student requests to eat during an exam or requires additional breaks, it would be helpful to support those requests. 

  • Understand that students may not know the dates of Ramadan far in advance, since they vary and need to be confirmed by religious authorities at the first sighting of the crescent moon. 

  • Encourage open communication if students require support. 

There are many ways to support students who are observing the month of Ramadan while respecting students’ privacy. “We know that students are more successful when they have proper supports,” says Ashton. “This fact, along with our commitment towards pluralism and inclusion, is one of the many reasons why UCalgary is working to support and embrace the diverse cultural celebrations and observances within our community.” In conjunction with Enrolment Services, FSC has summarized important information in a brochure with information about this year’s Ramadan

Advice from members of our local Muslim community 

In preparation for the month of Ramadan, the FSC and some of UCalgary’s Muslim students’ associations requested tips from their community members on how to support students. Below are some of the responses they received.

  • Be aware that many Muslims are fasting during this time. Ask before eating or drinking in front of others. 

  • Be aware that not all Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. There are many personal reasons why someone cannot fast. If you are asking a friend about fasting, listen to their response and avoid probing or judging. 

  • Ask your fasting peer if you can drop off a nutritious meal that they can easily heat up for iftar (meal at the end of the day) or suhoor (pre-dawn meal).  

  • Avoid talking about weight loss to Muslim friends during Ramadan. It can be triggering to those with histories of disordered eating. 

  • Wish people a Ramadan Mubarak or a peaceful Ramadan. “Happy Ramadan” is usually well-intentioned but can be insensitive. 

  • Ask your peers how their Ramadan is going. Reaching out is a good way to show support and respect. 

  • Educate yourself on Islam and advocate against Islamophobia where you can. Ramadan is about far more than fasting. People of other faiths will often fast in solidarity with Muslims, but that can trivialize the holy Ramadan experience. It is more helpful to participate in the spiritual act of humility and reflection. 

  • Ask if there is a charity you could donate to or a cause they are passionate about if you want to do more. Ramadan is also about volunteering and caring for others less fortunate.

Recognize that the pandemic adds pressure 

For the second year in a row, the month of Ramadan and the religious practices associated with it will be affected by the global pandemic. Those observing it without in-person family support may experience additional strain.  

There are many online options for students to connect and celebrate, including a number of student-led organizations and virtual off-campus-community events. Students can connect through UCalgary Students’ Union associations, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA), the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and the Women's Ahmadiyya Muslim Students' Association (WAMSA), or through off-campus communities, like the Calgary chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada. 

Anyone in our UCalgary community can find more information and support by contacting the FSC.