COLUMBIA — September usually means settling into a school routine. However, for the students and teachers at the Islamic School of Columbia, this month brings something extra: Ramadan. Along with the rest of the Muslim world, the faculty, staff and student body of 50 students are celebrating the Islamic holy month, which ends Oct. 2 with the feast Eid al-Fitr. The celebration commemorates when the Quran, or holy book, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
To begin the celebration at the school, first-year Principal Zuhnia Kozbar made each student a gift bag filled with a toy, dates and other treats.
"I asked everyone to open it at sundown," Kozbar said. "I'm not sure if everyone did. I saw some wrappers on the floor (during the day)."
During Ramadan, Muslims engage in daily fasting that lasts from sunrise to sunset. Children are not required to fast, and there is no set age for Muslims to start fasting. Little kids have to eat, Kozbar said, and they aren't used to not eating. Children who fast will do so during chunks of time throughout the day.
"It's like a training for them to feel for the poor," she said.
Fifth-grader Ferris Dweik is one of the few students at the Islamic School who is fasting this year.
"Fasting is kinda hard because you eat early in the morning and late at night," Dweik said. His school work, he said, isn't affected.
Teacher Imene Amor has two students who fast. She said she thinks the children who fast get used to it and that there is no difference between fasting and not fasting.
But Ramadan isn't all about fasting — Muslims use this time for personal reflection and charity. The school incorporates charity by collecting canned food and money for the Central Missouri Food Bank every Thursday. The school set a goal of 300 pounds of food and $100 for the month. Kozbar said that the school already had met part of its goal by raising $150 in one week. The students fill in a chart of what they have collected.
In Lamees Abdul-Kafi's classroom, every student takes a link from a paper chain that describes a task to accomplish at home. Students return to school the next day with a parent's signature proving the students completed the good deed. Her students also wrote a poem about Ramadan during social studies.
"Every day we do something different (to celebrate Ramadan)," Abdul-Kafi said. "They learn more about Islam. We do a lot of activities that teach them about the month. We can't copy what they do in the Muslim world but we just get them in the spirit of Ramadan."
Over the summer, the school celebrated its 10th anniversary and received accreditation from the Missouri Nonpublic School Accrediting Association. The school had been working toward accreditation for three years.
"It's just wonderful to have accreditation," Kozbar said. "We've held this dream for a very long time. It feels like we've accomplished something."
Now, the school can focus on its other dream: growth. The school is looking to expand past fifth grade but cannot do so without building onto its property or finding a new place altogether. The school is looking into both options, but there are no definite plans in either direction. Kozbar said the school also wants to remodel its computer lab and is applying for grants from businesses to help.
"It's a big project and a lot of money," she said. "Our community is mostly [university] students and they are on a limited budget."