Schools have been warned not to dictate whether children should fast during Ramadan this year, which is set to coincide with the summer exam period.
Fasting – which means not eating or drinking anything during daylight hours – is a personal decision, according to an information paper published on Wednesday by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
It advises schools and colleges to intervene only if "there are legitimate safeguarding concerns".
The information will also seek to convince Muslim parents that their children's future should not be put at risk and highlights that Islamic jurists believe they should not fast if their concentration levels are affected.
Islamic scholars believe that Muslims have to fast when they become "mature", although there is debate over what this means.
The guidance is being issued to schools and colleges a year after BuzzFeed News revealed that during Ramadan last year, students at four schools were ordered not to fast and were allowed to do so only after receiving explicit permission from the headmaster.
Although the guidance does recommend that schools ask parents and carers to let them know if their child is fasting, it does say that the choice to fast lies with the students.
"We don't think it's the place of schools to dictate to young people how they observe their own faith and how they're going to behave this year, but we think they should have this information," ASCL's parliamentary specialist Anna Cole told BuzzFeed News.
"They [parents] should know that some very senior Islamic figures think that you shouldn't be jeopardising your future through your exams by observing Ramadan when it might have negative consequences."
The ASCL information also seeks to comfort teachers who are concerned about a student's welfare that children are allowed to break their fast if they are ill.
"If the school notices signs of dehydration or exhaustion then the child should be asked if they are fasting and advised to terminate the fast immediately by drinking some water," the guidance suggests. "They can be reassured that in this situation, Islamic rulings allow them to break their fast and make it up later."
The advice, created after school leaders requested information on how to approach Ramadan, also seeks to persuade Muslim parents to make sure their children sleep early.
Citing a 1997 Dutch study, it warns that children who fast during Ramadan and don't get enough sleep because they are at late-night prayers could be at risk of losing the ability to concentrate.
However, it also adds anecdotally that many Muslim students say "fasting enhances their performance" and they feel energised during the month.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Siraj Datoo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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