Students learning mosque etiquette through a virtual reality device Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: As a non-Muslim expat, if you think your responsibility during Ramadan is only about not eating in public and finishing work early, you couldn’t be more mistaken.

As students of JESS Dubai are being made to realise early on, the Holy Month is an opportunity for people to do more than just that.

Selina Turner, assistant head-teacher, Arabic and Islamic Education at JESS Dubai, puts it in perspective. “Ramadan is a very special time of year for Muslims and we always focus on our Muslim students to help them prepare for Ramadan, teaching them the merits and etiquettes of the Holy Month. However, at JESS, we have a relatively small number of Muslim students and for the majority who are not fasting there is a danger that they could think that Ramadan is only about not eating and drinking in public or finishing school early. We want to convey the message that Ramadan is for everyone, while trying to inform people of the obligations of Muslims.”

Ramadan assemblies

She said the Ramadan preparations at JESS began with Muslim students remembering the importance of the Quran, particularly during Ramadan. Accordingly, the heads of Islamic Education, both at the Arabian Ranches and Jumeirah schools, coached students to prepare for the IQRA Quran competition, which culminated in an award ceremony.

Back to the roots. Parents educate JESS students on UAE customs and traditions at an event that celebrates cultural diversity.

“Then came a wave of Ramadan assemblies where our Muslim students, trained by our talented Islamic teachers, presented Ramadan to their non-Muslim peers. The secondary students were given a challenge by a Year 8 student Mohammad Almeheiri to join their Muslim friends in fasting for a day. Secondary Islamic students helped deliver assemblies to primary students and the whole school got ready to welcome Ramadan,” said Turner.

The highlight of the efforts, however, is a focus on kindness. “It’s a theme that we want to permeate through our school community. To this end, we have introduced the Ramadan Kindness Calendar where at the start of each day students in every class will open the calendar which reveals a kind act that they should focus on during the day. The kind act changes every day and by the end of the month, hopefully, we will have a whole community that has embraced the essence of Ramadan by doing good on a daily basis.”

The acts of kindness cover a wide range: from simple experiments like trying to smile at people or complimenting a friend to waiting patiently for your turn or picking up litter.

Turner said in addition to the kindness calendar, class teachers and tutors have organised activities for students like making Ramadan Kareem cards and Ramadan storytelling. Different classes get to do different things.

“At the Foundation stage, students are learning about the etiquette to be observed at a mosque through a virtual reality visit to the Shaikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. They are also learning about the foods eaten at iftar and developing their motor skills through a range of Ramadan activities.”

One task at a time. JESS students attend a session to learn about foods served at iftar and suhour.

Key Stage 1 students on the other hand are learning about the different phases of the moon through the month, while reinforcing kindness and good deeds through stories.

“They will also be making telescopes through which they can look at the moon. Key Stage 2 have their own activities running and Ramadan displays celebrating student work and key information will be evident throughout the school,” said Turner.

To make sure everyone is on board, a grand iftar will also held where teachers, parents and students come together.

“This is a yearly event and very popular as it is a great opportunity to gather the wider school community together. We also have a Ramadan clothes donation box on site where parents can donate clothes that will then be re-distributed to people in need in the region,” added Turner.