Reflecting Allowed

Anticipatory Compassionate Design in Muslim Fasting

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

I’m still inspired by Sakinah Alhaddad’s use of the term “compassion by design” in her reaction to my blogpost on how Muslim prayer contains a notion of soft deadlines built into the practice. My plan here is to expand on flexibility beyond deadlines and into anticipation of inequities and different circumstances, as in the guidelines for Ramadan fasting in Islam. I am going to call this Anticipatory Compassionate Design, because anticipation of special circumstances is key here. And then making room for exceptions beyond the anticipated. As you read this, think of a teaching analogy on your curriculum.

The default for Muslims is that fasting the month of Ramadan is required. However, there are many exceptions, and many of them laid out clearly in the Quran.

First of all, Ramadan fasting as an act of worship in and of itself is about empathy and compassion- you experience hunger by choice, a small “taste” of what it is like for people who experience it due to poverty for example.

The first exception not in the Quran is kids younger than puberty. This is default exemption for all acts of worship in Islam anyway.

The second exemption is for people who are traveling or sick (temporarily). For them, they can “make it up some other day” during the year. No questions asked about how sick you are or how long you are traveling. Just find another day after Ramadan and make it up, day for day.

The third exemption is for people who have chronic illnesses or for whom it is “really hard”. People who cannot make it up later. For them, they can pay for feeding a poor person.

Not mentioned in the Quran are a few other widely accepted exceptions. Women while menstruating *should not fast*. This seems to be scientifically sound, as you are losing blood and you would get both dehydrated and malnourished by fasting. Also, women who are pregnant or lactating are allowed to choose whether to fast or not. Doctors can sometimes advise one way or the other. I chose to fast because I felt I could do it and my doctor said it would be totally fine, but my kid came out slightly underweight, so in hindsight, maybe I should not have fasted in my 8th month of pregnancy.

But I digress.

The point is, as soon as the Quran mentions fasting Ramadan as a requirement, it anticipates most of the possible situations where it would be difficult or impossible to fast and outlines alternatives.

It even has a “catchall” for people who find if really difficult without limiting what falls under such a category.

Now for a pedagogical example. One from my class.

I require students to do small presentations live in my class, usually somewhere between two to three. But I anticipate some exceptions, such as: if someone has poor internet one day, they can present next class. If someone has anxiety, they can present to me alone or pre-record a video and post it instead. If someone cannot make the deadline, they can record it and post on their blog.

So options to “do it another day” and “do it another way” are maybe the two major guidelines for an anticipatory compassionate design.

What do you think? Can you give me more examples?

Header image of woman using binoculars from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/photos/adventure-binoculars-exploration-1846437/

4 thoughts on “Anticipatory Compassionate Design in Muslim Fasting

  1. I absolutely love this. Last year, I decided to add 14 days automatic extension to all of my courses. I felt in Spring 2020 it was becoming overwhelming to go through official protocols of applying for an extension. I myself wasn’t able to keep up. So, from Fall onwards…

  2. I like the options as a method of centering the importance of the “required” activity—fasting (for instance) is not just a gesture of obedience to rules, but necessary for your growth in the community. It’s important to others we don’t miss your offering of your thoughts in a shared activity, still we understand the possibility something is holding you back and forcing a rule on you is not why we are here.
    Just started reading this book, appropriate?
    “The human condition is overwhelmingly about relationships—about faithfulness: staying true, loyal and committed to one another despite all the tensions, setbacks, misunderstandings, backslidings, and all the multiple ways we fall short. It is about consecrating the bonds between us. It is about transcending our solitude.”
    From chapter 1 Loneliness
    Morality Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times
    Jonathan Sacks
    Scott

  3. Well presented case. I believe there is more room within education for the “do it another way” option. Offering accommodating alternatives for engagement with content or for assessment can be a great way to alleviate stress and frustration imposed on learners with hardships or with just different preferences! There are usually many means to an end.

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