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Edmonton high school takes steps to support its Muslim students during Ramadan

Mohammad Qasqas, left, is a student at Queen Elizabeth High School who founded the school's Muslim Student Association with the help of his teacher Abbas Hojeij, right.  (Kashmala Fida Mohatarem/CBC - image credit)
Mohammad Qasqas, left, is a student at Queen Elizabeth High School who founded the school's Muslim Student Association with the help of his teacher Abbas Hojeij, right. (Kashmala Fida Mohatarem/CBC - image credit)

A north Edmonton high school has set up a drop-in room, a prayer room and other measures to support students during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan, which started Monday, is a time when Muslims worldwide will fast — not eating or drinking anything — between sunrise and sunset every day for 30 days.

With the majority of students at Queen Elizabeth High School being Muslim, the school has found some unique ways to support them, including a drop-in room to hang out during lunchtime and a room for students to perform daily afternoon prayers during school hours.

These supports were requested by a group of students who took the initiative and created the school's first Muslim Student Association (MSA) this year.

"We wanted to make people feel welcome," said Mohammad Qasqas, a grade 11 student and founder of the MSA. "It's all just about making the students feel welcome and enjoying their time during school."

LISTEN | Supporting high school students during Ramadan

At the MSA's request, the school has dedicated the school's library common room, an interactive room with whiteboards and a giant screen, where students can spend their lunch break. Qasqas said they hope to use the space for guest lectures from invited guests during Ramadan.

One of the classrooms has also been converted into a full-time prayer room. Social studies teacher Abbas Hojeij, a sponsor for the MSA, said Al-Rashid Mosque donated rugs and a sign for the room.

"Between classes, [students] can come, quickly pray and go to their classes," he said.

Hojeij said his top priority is ensuring students are safe.

"With students fasting, it's a struggle, which is the whole point of Ramadan. So we keep an eye on them," he said.

The school runs a YouTube channel called The Knight's Watch, which broadcasts daily school news into every classroom during the second block.

Hojeij said he will be going on the show during the week to provide tips on how to fast safely, "like staying hydrated, sleeping well, eating well at night," he said.

The prayer room at Queen Elizabeth High School in north Edmonton. The prayer rugs and signs are donated by Al-Rashid mosque.
The prayer room at Queen Elizabeth High School in north Edmonton. The prayer rugs and signs are donated by Al-Rashid mosque.

The prayer room at Queen Elizabeth High School in north Edmonton. The prayer rugs and signs were donated by Al-Rashid mosque. (Kashmala Fida Mohatarem/CBC)

He said a lot of non-Muslim students and teachers will often fast in solidarity with the Muslim students, "Those are the ones I'm concerned about because they might not know the preparation it takes to fast," he said.

Although there are new measures to support students this year, Qasqas said teachers have always been considerate of students in the past.

"When the month of Ramadan started, [teachers] told us that they were going to try and give us more time to study for exams," he said.

The school also hosts an annual iftar dinner for students, teachers and their families to break their fast together at sunset. The event this year will take place on March 20 at the Italian Cultural Centre.