After 2 years of isolation, members of the local Muslim Student Association gather for Ramadan

Ramadan, the annual month of daytime fasting and reflection for Muslims, will begin at sunset on Friday April 1, with the appearance of the crescent moon and the first day of fasting will be Saturday April 2.

The fast begins at dawn, after an early breakfast called suhoor. In the diverse community of American Muslims, there is no common meal for all who observe the fast. For American-born Muslims, the meal may consist of cereal and fruit or a bagel and coffee. Those of Turkish, Indonesian or Bangladeshi descent may prefer ethnic dishes.

Those who fast do not eat or drink all day, not even a sip of water. At sunset, the fast is traditionally broken with sweet dates and water, followed by prayers and the evening meal, called iftar. Night prayers, taraveeh, are observed in mosques, where a portion of the Quran is recited each night. It is also an opportunity to bond with other Muslims.

Fasting is mentioned in the Quran. “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop the consciousness of God.” (2:183)

“Fasting has layers of meaning as well as benefits. The main two stem directly from the two most important teachings of Islam: believing in the oneness of God and expressing it by practicing justice with all else,” said Genghis Khan, an engineer at GE and the Muslim Student Advisor in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Union College Schenectady.

Celebrate on campus

Students observing Ramadan on campus have a very different experience than at home, where they can eat and pray as a family.

“In middle school, fasting is an act of vulnerability, being surrounded by so many people who eat and drink in front of you without knowing it. We pray between classes or alone in a dorm,” said Hannah Soliman, president of the Association. Muslim students from the Union. College in Schenectady, where there are 40-50 Muslim students. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, she is a senior in college and a major in cognitive neuroscience.

“Union College has many international students,” she said.

Many hadn’t even heard of the MSA before coming to America and don’t have the same footing as American Muslims, she said.
“But Ramadan events are much more personal because students can rest their hearts during this holy month with other Muslim students after spending much of the year trying to assimilate or get used to living in a foreign country as a full-time student, alone.”

Xia Bolun Namir, 23, is president of the Muslim Student Association at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, working on her master’s degree in computer science.

For those observing Ramadan at RPI, the college organizes boxes of suhoor to take away. Fasting students take those from the dining hall and eat in their rooms before dawn.

Students wishing to pray will have access to the Islamic prayer room at a gym on weeknights and the taraveeh at the 15th Street Mosque, he said. “We are also planning a study circle for the text and explanation of the Quran,” he said.

The college MSA plans to offer trips to the Al Hidaya Center in Latham on weekends for students to have a community experience during the month.

Xia, who is from Beijing, came to New York University for undergraduate studies. “I converted halfway through undergrad. I was an agnostic before,” he said.


A time for charity

Union College MSA hasn’t held an in-person Ramadan event in two years, Soliman said, but attendance has been much higher online due to accessibility. “International students, commuters, students living on campus, all had the same opportunity to attend. The need for a spiritual voice of reason was much higher during the pandemic and more desired. Prior to the pandemic, many non-Muslim students who were friends with Muslim students would participate in fasting and prayer as diligently as their Muslim counterparts.”

Soliman said the MSA Union is active in interfaith dialogue. “We are extremely proud to say that we hold interfaith dinners each academic term with Protestant Christian students and Jewish students. Interfaith dinners during Ramadan begin at sunset and are open to everyone.”

Ramadan in college forces you to think about what kind of person you are, as a Muslim, when practicing as an independent adult without anyone around you holding you accountable. “It’s the best and most humbling character test I could have gotten while fasting from home,” Soliman said.

Khan echoed similar sentiments. “Acting justly is not inherent in human nature, so training is needed, especially in self-control, and Ramadan is a training camp for that. As the day progresses eternizes, a fasting person can easily drink or eat without anyone knowing, but their conscience of God So, when faced with committing injustices, it is this same conscience that will then stop them. , many subconsciously justify injustices for their survival. Yet if we can stop ourselves from eating because of God-consciousness, then we can tap into that same strength to stop ourselves from acting unjustly.”

Ramadan is a time of charity and Muslims tend to support many causes for the less fortunate, including refugees. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, it begins earlier than the previous year.

Ramadan ends at sunset on May 2 this year. The next day is Eidul Fitr, celebrated with prayers giving thanks to God, gifts and money to children, and gathering with family and friends.

Before COVID, Muslims and non-Muslims rented a bus from Union to get to Eid prayers early in the morning, Soliman said. “We would go back to our morning classes together. Although we all wished for the holidays, the adrenaline rush of spiritual and academic productivity with my best friends is such a beautiful memory,” she said.

Andrew B. Reiter