Ramadan reflections: Why ignorance to Islamic customs is not bliss

This year for the first time, we received a day off for Eid, the celebration of Ramadan’s completion. This recognition was a big step in the right direction, though we are displeased that it took this long for one of Islam’s few holidays to be recognized by our school. Each year when Ramadan begins we feel a mixture of pride and worry: Will our teachers be understanding? Will our classmates be respectful? Will Ramadan be given the recognition it deserves? 

Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Lunar Calendar and is one of the most sacred celebrations in Islam. Muslims fast for thirty days to understand the importance of gratitude and privilege and to form a deeper connection with our religion and with God. As Muslims, we have great pride in our customs, yet the discrimination we face because of our identity holds us back.

Our whole lives, we have been defined by stereotypes created by non-muslims that tell us how we should properly practice our religion, what we should wear, and what our religion should mean to us. By the time we first introduce ourselves as Muslims, many have already fostered a perception of us due to stereotypes perpetuated in the media. We are seen by some as dangerous and peculiar people who incite violence. Coming to a prestigious private school like Horace Mann, we hoped that we would finally gain acceptance as Muslims in today’s society. But the reality was different; we have faced our fair share of uncomfortable stares and remarks that have made us feel unwelcome in our primarily white school. As one of us is a Hijabi, we have sometimes been subject to lingering gazes of disgust on campus. While most students at Horace Mann are open-minded, many members of the community still lack the proper awareness of Muslim customs and their ignorance shines through.

Horace Mann does not fail to provide us with a loving atmosphere through active community support, but we find that the school does not try its hardest in teaching us about many important holidays. As a result, we sometimes face comments from other students arguing with us on what our religion preaches when, in most cases, they are confused on why we even have a day off on May 13th. 

Although we would love to spread knowledge about the details of our religion, questions surrounding the subject are often posed in a condescending and rude manner. Once, a non-Muslim student at Horace Mann engaged in a verbal altercation with one of us, claiming that Islam was just a religion that followed only Prophet Muhammad. When we attempted to educate them on our beliefs, they continued to insist that they knew more about Islam than we did because they had studied it previously. That kind of insensitivity should not be tolerated at our school.

The ignorance that manifests in these instances within the Horace Mann community has silenced us, as we are afraid of potential reactions to our practices. However, we have since realized that when people fail to teach others what Islam truly encapsulates, we only allow the ignorance to grow in our community. 

Horace Mann’s acceptance of our traditions is admirable, but there is still room for improvement. It is imperative that, for the years to come, Muslims feel progressively more comfortable in practicing Ramadan at school without fearing the insensitive questions posed during this special month. Although it is embarrassing to admit as Muslims, an internalized fear of Islamophobia has prevented us from telling our side of the story in the past, but as we matured, our confidence in explaining Islam’s true customs has grown. We encourage others to truly listen to Muslim voices on what Ramadan is and to join us in properly educating others about Islamic beliefs.