Sameha Alshareef faced a more daunting challenge this Ramadan, maintaining her daily fast among 1,500 public-school students who are free to enjoy a noonday lunch and snacks when they please.
But Sameha, a ninth-grade student at Richland Northeast High School, said this week she is doing just fine, aided by her spiritual fortitude and her fellow classmates, who are curious about this sacred Muslim holiday and the fasting that accompanies it.
"We are kind of used to it because we have been trained since we were about 7," said Sameha, who wears the traditional hajib. Her fellow students "want to know how we do it."
It is the same for Ahmed Abu-Salmia, who said that despite his stocky build, "I don't really eat that much." At noon, when others are opening their lunch bags, Ahmed, a 14-year-old junior, might catch up on homework for his psychology class or AP English, which he noted wryly "is killing me."
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Both Sameha and Ahmed attended the Islamic Academy of Columbia until this year. They were accustomed to a Muslim school environment, where the lunch period was shortened and homework was abridged during Ramadan because of the dawn to sunset fast.
Ahmed said his teachers and fellow students at RNE have been understanding and would give him some leeway if he needed it.
Ramadan begins, according to Islamic tradition, in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar when the moon first appears. Muslims fast from food, drink, smoking and sexual relations and spend many of the daylight hours in prayer and doing good works.
"I feel like it purifies our heart and that God will be pleased," Sameha said. She and her fellow Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins during Ramadan and strive to live free of conflicts.
Sameha said she will be at her mosque Sunday night and into Monday morning, reciting prayers and preparing for Eid.
She and Ahmed are among about two dozen Muslim students at Richland Northeast High, said Susan Silverstein, the school's spokeswoman.
The diversity has enriched the climate of the school, Silverstein said. "We have a tradition of being open," she said.