By: Mishaa Khan, Peak Associate
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar During it, Muslims around the globe fast from pre-dawn to sunset. The fast includes abstaining from food, water, and sexual intercourse. Many Muslims in the Lower Mainland start their fast by eating their pre-dawn meal, called suhoor, at around 3 a.m., and break their fast by eating a meal, called iftaar, around sunset at approximately 9 p.m. [Editor’s note: Because the times are tied to the positions of the sun, the schedule of which changes by a few minutes from day to day and place to place, these times are not exact.] This year, Ramadan began on Tuesday, May 7, and is projected to end on Tuesday, June 4.
Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam, and it is mandatory for every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty. In certain situations, Muslims don’t have to fast. These include being ill, travelling, nursing, being pregnant, etc. Muslims would then be required to make up for these fasts at a later time. However, in some cases, if they can’t due to medical reasons or old age, they are expected to feed a poor person for each day that they cannot fast.
The reason that Muslims fast is to attain God consciousness or taqwa. In order to do this, Muslims try to increase their acts of worship, decrease their sins, and ask for forgiveness. As Imam Omar Suleiman describes in a CNN article, “It’s worth taking the opportunity this month to ask how we can feed our souls by building that connection with God, and being mindful and grateful for the blessings we consume every day.”
According to Tala Adlouni, an SFU student, “Ramadan is not only about refraining from drinking and eating but also about refraining with your tongue, your eyes, and your hands. It’s about breaking bad habits, starting new ones, and being the best version of yourself.”
Some Muslims, such as SFU student Rasha Syed, set goals for themselves during Ramadan. Syed’s goals include finishing the Quran at least once during Ramadan, attending nightly prayers (taraweeh) at the mosque at least four times a week, and giving more to charity.
“Most importantly though,” Syed states, “when setting goals, I try to ensure that these are goals I could potentially try and maintain after Ramadan. I don’t want the only thing I gain from this blessed month to be the hunger and thirst that I experienced from fasting. This month is so much more than that, and I want to give it the importance it deserves.”
According to several studies, fasting can have many benefits, such as improving memory and learning, improving mental health, decreasing the risk of getting diabetes, aiding in weight loss, and lowering blood pressure. But balancing the long fasts, dehydration, and disruption of sleep can be difficult for many Muslim students.
Adlouni details how challenging it can be to balance school and Ramadan. Adlouni mentions that low energy and motivation as well as feeling the need to take advantage of the holiday, by doing dhikr, reading Quran and volunteering, can impact both work and school life.
“Ramadan started when my summer semester began and I must say I really struggled. It wasn’t the food or the water itself; it was more about the amount of energy and concentration I had.” Adlouni states.
Syed also touched on this issue, saying, “I feel that’s a big part of Ramadan though, to push your limits and see what you are capable of. Usually, when you push yourself you find that you are capable of a lot more than you think you are.”
Although there can be challenges, Ramadan is a time to be celebrated among Muslims. Adlouni expresses that, “With the little disadvantages it has, the benefits really outweigh them, and with duaa (supplication) everything is made easy. We are halfway through the month and it honestly went by extremely quickly. I’m looking forward to the rest of the days and I know that with every difficulty, the reward increases greatly.”
Different people prepare for Ramadan in different ways. For example, those who are addicted to caffeine try to taper off it to prevent drowsiness and withdrawal symptoms during Ramadan. Adlouni celebrates by helping to prepare food and the table with family and friends as well as decorating the house. Syed tries to keep a Ramadan journal to stay on top of her goals and remain organized.
Currently, the SFU Muslim Student Association (MSA) host weekly iftaars on campus in the Maggie Benson Centre food court. The iftaars are open to everyone, regardless of your religious affiliation. It starts of with a 10 – 20 minute speech by one of the speakers, breaking of the fast using either a date or water, followed by the Maghreb prayer. After this, the attendees dine. The iftaars usually have between 120 to 170 attendees.
The weekly iftaars are especially important for converts and international students, like Sakina Nazarali, because they are partaking in Ramadan without close family and friends. For the first time, Nazarali spent Ramadan away from home in Tanzania, but she was later able to find a community in Richmond to celebrate with.
Of the experience, Nazarali says, “In the beginning, it caused me a large load of worries and sadness but with the coming of the holy month, I realized that it isn’t so bad. With [Ramadan], it’s never about the hunger or the thirst. Rather, it’s about the support and warmth the encompass the month that you get from being in a community and breaking your fast with people around you and worshipping with them.”
Adlouni describes her experience volunteering with the MSA hosting the weekly iftaars as an extremely fulfilling, amazing experience. “When we break our fast and pray Maghreb together, afterwards you really feel the unity and love because the joy of breaking your fast is elevated when shared with others. A variety of people show up to the iftaars — all with different ethnicities, languages, backgrounds, and even religions, and that’s the beauty of it.”
The Dining Hall’s hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer semester, so it provides Muslim students with food packages to take to their rooms to eat suhoor and iftaar. The food package includes one pack of dates, two reheatable meals, two bottled beverages, one carton of milk, two whole fruits, one dessert, one dinner roll, one yoghurt cup, vegetables, and hummus.
Many non-Muslims believe that it’s disrespectful to eat in front of their Muslim friends, but it is totally OK! Adlouni says, “My coworkers wouldn’t even eat or drink in front of me even though I insisted that it was okay.”
Another common misconception is that it is disrespectful to partake in the fasts or ask too many questions if you are not Muslim. That could not be further from the truth. I’ve had many teachers and friends who were curious to see what it felt like and would fast along with me. It shows a sense of companionship — but, of course, no Muslim expects anyone else to fast along with us.
Syed goes on to say, “If you’re not a Muslim and have any questions about fasting or Ramadan in general, then ask away! Although, don’t start to regret it when I go off talking excitedly, insisting that we talk for hours about Ramadan.”