Naperville sophomore Umair Siddiqui manages to balance his school life with his religious responsibilities.
The 16-year-old said he appreciates how accommodating Naperville North High School teachers and administrators are by allowing him to leave class early for five to 10 minutes for midday prayers, particularly during Ramadan. “They’re very lenient. They really care for us,” Umair said.
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month marked by a daily sunrise-to-sunset fast ― this year from the evening of April 12 through the evening of May 12 ― celebrating the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.
Umair, who has been fasting since he was 8 or 9 years old, said for him it’s month to get closer to God, and he’s helping others to do the same.
The teen, who memorized the Quran over the last two and a half years, leads extra prayers, known as the taraweeh, at the Islamic Center of Naperville for small gatherings of people.
“It’s really meaningful for me, seeing all the people behind me in support,” he said.
When he started learning and memorizing the Quran in class, Umair said he’d typically recite 20 pages a day.
When pandemic forced lessons and recitations online, it became difficult because of internet connection issues, he said.
While challenging, he said he’s grateful to those who supported him. “It wasn’t just me. It was all the people around me,” Umair said.
Juggling school and fasting is not something 15-year-old Simraah Sakkaria had to worry about in the past.
The Naperville teen, who has been fasting for Ramadan since age 12, said before COVID-19 pandemic, Ramadan fell during the summer months when she wasn’t in school even though the time between dawn and sunset was longer.
“I was also in an Islamic school so they would give us like time off during Ramadan so I guess it was easier because I wasn’t in public school. This is my first time being in public school,” the Waubonsie Valley High School freshman said.
With days lasting roughly 15 hours this year, fasters eat a dinner meal after sunset and are up for breakfast before dawn. A nap is often important to get through the day.
Simraah, who is remote learning, said schooling from home helps. “We do get a lot of rest in between classes,” she said.
Ramadan is a chance for spiritual growth and family togetherness supporting each other during the fast, Simraah said.
“I think it’s really important because fasting is a way that we get to connect to God, and I guess it’s like having a deeper and spiritual connection to him,” she said.
Her favorite part is Eid, the feast marking the end the fast, she said. “It’s like a celebration where we invite our friends or families,” Simraah said. “We hope that this year we can go to our cousin’s house and have fun.”
As an educator for more than two decades, Durdana Rahman, of Naperville, said it’s important for children to understand what they’re doing during Ramadan.
“You’re not just doing rote and just because my parents said,” Rahman said. “In the beginning they do it because they like to see everybody else doing it. It’s that time of bonding for them.”
Praying and fasting during Ramadan and giving charity to the poor are three of the five pillars of the Islamic faith taught to children and accentuated during Ramadan.
“It’s a form of worship, and (children) understand that because they’re already seeing us do all forms of worship” Rahman said.
An easy way to involve children, she said, is the charity aspect.
Rahman said a neighbor’s daughter helped by giving out Ramadan baskets of dates, fruits and other foods, “which was wonderful because I saw that the girl is very enthusiastic now about the holy month.”
What kids understand is that fasting is a sacrifice, Rahman said, but also a chance for them to empathize with those who don’t have food.
“Maybe we’ll start them out with like a half day or so just so that they’re not doing the whole day,” she said. “Some kids will do like maybe just the weekends, things like that, because they like to join it.”
Rahman grew up in Frankfort at a time when she and her family were the only Muslims in the town.
“I remember the teachers would just be like, how could you be fasting,” she said.
“It’s funny because now intermittent fasting is a thing,” Rahman said. “Now we want to understand that it’s healthier for you.”