Muslims in North America will be celebrating Eid al-Fitr today, breaking the fast of the month of Ramadan. (“Eid al-Fitr” literally means the “feast of the breaking of the fast”.) Ramadan commemorates the period in which the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting is a practice among people of most, if not all, faiths. It is a purifying spiritual discipline and a demonstration of solidarity with one’s less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Since Islam, like many other minority faiths in the US, does not have the widespread recognition that Christianity does, Muslim Americans are doubly appreciative when their non-Muslim counterparts at work, in school, or in the neighborhood, recognize the importance of a day like this. For teachers, festivals or commemorations are prime “teachable moments” when Muslim students or parents can share traditions that their fellows might not be aware of. It is never too late to take the opportunity to welcome your students this way. The next important day this year in the Muslim calendar is Eid al-Adah, the feast of the sacrifice which commemorates the story of Abraham and Ishmael (Isma’il) as a sign of his obedience to God. In 2011, this holiday lasts from Nov. 6-9.
One of the most helpful resources for teaching about Islam that I have found is Teaching about Islam and Muslims in the Public School Classroom: A Handbook for Educators, produced by the Institute of Religion and Civic Values (IRCV); it’s priced at $5.00. I wrote a short review of it many years ago for the newsletter of Dar al-Islam: “Resources for Teaching a Secondary School Level ‘Introduction to Islam’ Course.” IRCV produces a host of other resources geared toward teachers. The Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University (CMCU) in Washington, DC offers free professional development workshops for teachers at the venue of organizers’ choice. If any area teachers are interested in hosting such a conference I can be of assistance in making the necessary contacts. I am also willing to organize workshops and visits to schools in the area with local Muslims or others from the Middle East or of Middle Eastern origin.