Canada Students make 'fast' friends at Louise Arbour school's Ramadan club in London, Ont.
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There's a new lunchtime club at Louise Arbour French Immersion elementary school in north London in southwestern Ontario.
But at this club, students aren't working to sharpen their skills at chess, calligraphy or computer coding.
This spring, the school started its first Ramadan club, timed to coincide with the Muslim holy month, which started last weekend.
The new club, which has 15 students as members, helps provide a safe space for those who choose to fast over Ramadan, a place where they won't be tempted by food other students bring to school and eat during lunchtime.
The club is overseen by Danya Atta, a Grade 2 teacher who saw a need to provide a safe space for Muslim students, particularly when their classmates are eating.
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"The Ramadan club started as an answer to a question," said Atta, a practising Muslim. "How can we support students who are committing to fasting the full day, especially during eating times in their classroom where they're surrounded by their friends who are eating? We're trying to support them by removing that temptation."
Part of the purpose of fasting during the holy month is to sharpen Muslims' focus on spirituality over worldly concerns, such as eating, Atta said.
"We set those things aside as a way to remember God and to remember doing things to please God, to be kind to others, to help those in need and to become a better person overall," she said.
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Fasting isn't easy, and for many Muslims, that's part of the reason they do it. In writing about their fasts, many Muslims speak of a clarity it gives them and a reordering of the priorities in their daily lives. Most Muslims will consume no food, or even drink water, during the day over the 30-day holy month.
"It takes a lot of self-discipline," said Atta. "But the body recovers and the strength that an individual gets while they fast is remarkable."
Work books, art projects
Not all Muslim families fast, and not all those who do fast choose to abstain from all food and drink from sun up to sun down. Atta said some families ease their kids into it with half-day fasting until they feel ready to go all day without food or drink.
The Ramadan club provides a space where the sacrifice that goes with fasting is understood, and kids can be supported in their choice and free from the temptations of other students' lunches.
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The club doesn't follow any set curriculum. There are work books and art projects about Ramadan. Some members choose to relax or do other school work while they're at the club, and Atta is on hand to answer any questions from students about Ramadan.
Wael El-Amari is a Grade 7 student of Moroccan descent. He's fasting the entire month and is a big fan of the Ramadan club.
"It helps me represent Ramadan and my religion," he said.
El-Amari admitted the daytime fasting isn't easy, but he wants to do it. He also said it gets easier over time.
"It first it feels like you're suffocating, you're starving, but then you get used to it," he said. "Then it becomes nothing."
Rayann Kiddo, a Grade 7 Ramadan club member, enjoys the camaraderie of being with other Muslims students taking part in the fast.
"It helps because there's a lot of other people here fasting with you," she said. "It encourages you not to break your fast."
Nidal Mohammed's parents are from Sudan. She's an enthusiastic member of the club and its members' commitment to the fast: "It motivates me."
The club will meet daily for the rest of Ramada and end with a celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month.
"We'll be celebrating with food, with decorations, with music and with laughter," said Atta. "Eid is the celebration of the sacrifices that were made over the previous 30 days. It's a time to rejoice with families and friends. I hope it motivates them knowing that they have an Eid party to look forward to."
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