Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- primary schools for girls in Jeddah are forcing their students to fast. Parents are angry, as they believe that fasting is inappropriate and physically harmful to the health of their daughters.
Fatima Al-Sheikh, the mother of one of the students said, "I prepared lunch as usual for my daughter on the first day of Ramadan but I was surprised when my daughter returned with the full meal. I questioned her about this and she replied that the teacher refused to let her open her lunchbox and said that we should all be fasting." The mother continues saying, "my daughter is thin and she cannot fast. Besides, she cannot wake up to eat before dawn, so how can she fast without eating?"
The mother of Nour Abdullah, another pupil, says, "The teachers had previously told the girls not to bring a school meal during Ramadan so I had to wake up early to give my daughter a full breakfast. The problem of drinking water remains, however. During hot days and the hard work that is put in to classes at school, the girls need water but sadly, teachers refuse this." She adds, "The school should coordinate with families to help the young girls become accustomed to fasting."
Umm Samar, another mother, comments saying, "Training the girls to fast should start at home and not by force from school. Home is for upbringing and school is for education. Towards the end of Ramadan, when the girls would be at home, we can accustom them to the notion of fasting."
Itemad Shu”aib, assistant manager for educational supervision replies to this saying, "there is no generalized rule by the ministry about the necessity for pupils to fast especially considering that we”re at the beginning of the school year which requires that students concentrate and grasp the lessons well. It is for this reason that the decision of fasting is left to the student and her family to make. If she can fast during school, teachers should encourage her but she should not be forced to fast."
Khaled Ibrahim, imam and speaker of the university mosque comments on the issue. He says, "Students should get used to fasting, but they should not fast the whole day. They can start by fasting until noon, but the girl should decide to do this for herself. It should not be imposed. The schoolteacher should introduce the idea by talking about fasting during the holy month of Ramadan before it even begins, and encouraging the idea of fasting. The teacher can also suggest fasting firstly for an hour and then increasing the number of hours until the pupil completes the whole day."
Khaled adds that, "There is much confusion between the obligation of fasting and that of prayer for children. Regarding prayer, the prophet said, "command your children to pray at seven and beat them for neglecting it at 10". This applies to prayer but not fasting. Training for fasting should begin when a child approaches puberty. The point of teaching children obedience is so that habit later becomes an act of worship. Adults who were did not become accustomed to praying and fasting at a young age do not keep up these acts."