Ramadan: Guidance launched for students in school PE lessons who can't drink or eat while fasting

Sport is thirsty work on a normal day, making a PE lesson that bit harder for Muslim students fasting during Ramadan.

Overnight on Monday March 11, many Muslims across the country began fasting for the Holy Month.

For those who are old enough, and choosing to take part in Fasting, it means they won’t be able to eat or drink during much of the day - for the next 30 days or so.

For school pupils taking part in sport and PE lessons during the month, not being able to drink water can prove challenging.

Students at Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School in Wednesbury told ITV News: "Anything can happen, you don’t know, your body isn’t hydrated or doesn’t have enough food in it, so you can pass out or have a serious condition."

Another said: "We used to do track for PE and one time I wasn’t allowed water and my head started aching."

While another noted: "I’ve been fasting for quite a few years, but sometimes it does get difficult."

'I didn’t want to be treated any differently' says Dr Irfan Khawaja, the man behind the guidance

But, groundbreaking new guidance for schools on how to manage and adapt lessons for fasting students is hoping to change those concerns.

The new guidance offers advice to teachers on how they can adapt classes, with easy tweaks like keeping them indoors instead of outdoors during the summer, allowing students to coach from the sidelines and lowering the intensity of lessons for pupils.

Dr Irfan Khawaja, a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University, and the man who wrote the guidance, said it’s because of his own experiences at school: "At the age of 16 I was a fasting PE student doing GCSE PE and I did the multi-stage fitness test, or some know it as the bleep test.

He continued: "Now, I was nil-by-mouth, which includes no water, now running a VO2 max test when you are fasting naturally has some serious risks associated with it, but being the young 16 year old that I was, I fully engaged in it, I didn’t want to raise awareness to the fact that I was fasting, cause I didn’t want to be treated any differently, I just wanted to carry on with my friends."

'There’s no teaching in the religion that says when you’re fasting you can’t engage in physical activity,' says Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain

With this year’s fasts due to start at around 4.30am, and end at 6-7pm each day, many Imams across the country have welcomed Dr Khawaja's guidance.

The guidance has been published and endorsed by the Association for Physical Education, and endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, The Youth Sport Trust and the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, said it’ll help stop students from ducking out of sports lessons: "So, in the past it was not uncommon to hear stories of Muslim students refusing to participate in physical activity because they said ‘We’re fasting.’

He added: "But there’s no teaching in the religion that says when you’re fasting you can’t engage in physical activity.

"Some of the tweaks a PE teacher can make, for example, in a swimming lesson, is because water should not enter the mouth and thereby the throat, which would nullify the fast, is to ensure that they do activities within the water which will minimise the possibility of that, so to do backstrokes or treading in the water."

'Young people today will definitely benefit from this guidance,' says Boxing coach Haseebah Abdullah

One England Boxing Coach who was a Commonwealth Games Home Town Hero says the guidance only helps to break down barriers.

Haseebah Abdullah said: "I wish there was someone out there that could represent us and help us out during this month because as young people, when we’re heard, we feel included, we feel like we’re actually being valued.

She concluded: "I think that’s really really important and young people today will definitely benefit from this guidance."

Around 75% of schools have taken up the guidance, but it’s hoped that will soon become 100% so all Muslim pupils can keep active during Ramadan.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…