Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour contacted the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) regarding a feature they were doing about child fasting. They were going to be discussing Ramadan falling during exam times and the guidelines produced by Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) entitled Ramadan: Exams and Tests, 2019, Information for Schools and Colleges.

Debate participants on the programme today were going to be CEMB Spokesperson along with Writer of the Ramadan guidelines from the ASCL Anna Cole, and a former president from the Muslim Teacher’s Association (MTA) Rukhsana Yaqoob.

An hour before the programme, our spokesperson was informed that she was no longer needed via email. Unsurprisingly, the programme disinvited the only person opposed to child fasting. CEMB has initiated a campaign during the month of Ramadan to show how child fasting is harmful to children and child development. It causes sickness, dizziness, migraines, sunstrokes, lack of focus and tiredness as a result of dehydration or lack of sustenance. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, apathy, reduced alertness, diminished comprehension… Children have been known to faint at school as a result.

Also, CEMB would have been the only organisation on the programme to expose the troubling ASCL guidelines, which entertains a discussion about children fasting in primary schools, a wholly inappropriate discussion for an advisory body for educators.

The guidelines also fail to take in account a single health professional; rather all of its advisors and endorsers are Islamic “scholars”, “experts”, imams, chaplains and Muslim educators. Though the ASCL think these guidelines were well intentioned, they have only taken the advice of the most conservative Muslims in Britain. There are many Muslims who do not fast, nor do they permit their children to fast during the month of Ramadan, particularly in the long hot days of the summer. It is noteworthy that those voices were missing from the ASCL “guidelines”.

As usual, regressive do-gooders have negotiated with religious conservatives and fundamentalists to create a guideline from the dark ages for British children from Muslim families. Had someone created a policy of child starvation for non-Muslims children, they would have been sanctioned and rightly so! This is indeed the modern face of institutional racism!

Worse still, throughout the guidelines, there is much discussion over what age a child should be starved from and whether they should only be starved for a short part of the day.

Had a non-Muslim child been sent to school, without food and water and had been told not to eat or drink anything for 19 hours, the school would have triggered safeguarding procedures and the parents would have been investigated for neglect. Safeguarding is a key role of educators in the UK, however, this is disregarded in the case of children from Muslim families.

During the discussion on Women’s Hour, Rukhsana from the MTA discussed the fact that though for the last few years Ramadan arrived during GSCE examination period only, this year some 11-year-old students would be taking the Key stage 2 and 3 SATS exams whilst fasting and that educators needed to be mindful of this. Furthermore, they discussed the fact that puberty starts at different times for girls than boys, giving the impression that they fully support child fasting from a young age, as by the age of puberty, it become farz (an obligation) on the young person to fast.

Rukhsana also discussed the fact that some young children see their elders fasting and want to fast. Some young people see their parents smoking, too. I am assuming that Rukhsana and Anna will be working on an advisory policy for child smoking next? Or perhaps a guideline for child flagellation, as this too is s requirement for some Muslims?

In a previous interview that Rukhsana gave, she claimed that she had been motivated into teaching because of the educational gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Fasting and dehydration reduce cognition and performance, surely, therefore, it would go against her principles of bettering the odds for children from Muslim families to encourage them to fast.

The discussion of Woman’s hour was one sided and failed to show the serious harms of fasting for children, particularly during long hot days and during examinations.

Child fasting is child neglect. If adults wish to fast, they may do so, however, for schools to be failing in the statutory duty of care for children from Muslim families requires a serious discussion. One that Woman’s hour failed to facilitate today.

This is nothing short of shameful.

CEMB calls on the public to join us in a protest at the Department for Education on 17 May at 12pm to highlight the Department’s inaction with regards to child fasting in schools during Ramadan. Child fasting should be banned as it is harmful to children.

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