Non-Muslims involved in education in Winnipeg — teachers, teacher’s aides, administrators, bus drivers and trustees — are being invited to join their Muslim students by fasting for a day during Ramadan.
The invitation is coming from the Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA), which will hold a virtual iftar, or breaking of the day-long Ramadan fast, on May 7.
The event is being organized by Aadila Adam-Omer, a Grade 7 teacher at John Pritchard School in North Kildonan.
Adam-Omer, who is Muslim, was inspired to hold the event after four non-Muslim teachers at her school asked about fasting for a day. They wanted to learn more about Islam and develop deeper connections with their Muslim students.
That fast, which took place near the start of Ramadan, was very successful.
"When the Muslim students heard what their teachers were doing, they were thrilled," said Adam-Omer of the 25 or so Muslim students at the school. "They were impressed the teachers wanted to connect with them at that level."
She thought it might be a good idea to invite other teachers and other people involved in education in Winnipeg to do it, too.
"I thought, why not make it bigger and involve other schools," she said, noting one of the students sent a "heartfelt" note of thanks to his teacher for participating.
Participants in the city-wide iftar will be able to get a supper from the MIA, then join a Zoom conversation with local members of the Muslim community to learn more about Islam and the Muslim community in Manitoba.
It’s also a chance to learn more about Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and what it means to their students.
"Ramadan is more than fasting," Adam-Omer said. "It’s also about coming together as a community, working past differences, and serving others."
By going without food for a day, it also helps people become more aware of hunger, and what it means to not have enough to eat, she said.
By participating, educators can also understand what it’s like for their students to not eat for a day.
"When I was a student in the 1970s, I used to hide the fact I was fasting," Adam-Omer said. "I was afraid others would find out."
Today things are different, she said, with people encouraged to celebrate their faiths and cultures. But some students might still feel uncomfortable if others knew they were going without food.
By participating in the fast, teachers can "help them feel more comfortable," she said, noting teachers and others will then have "first-hand experience about what it’s like."
If this year’s online event is successful, Adam-Omer hopes they can do it next year in person at a local mosque.
Educators who want to participate can register at www.miaonline.org.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.