Muslim students celebrate Ramadan on campus

Students gather in community for the MSA provided evening meal, iftar. Those who choose to fast will break their fast after sundown with iftar, which also offers a time to pray and reflect. // Photo courtesy of MSA

Millions of Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan, a time of sacrifice, prayer and reflection. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, approximately corresponding to March 10 to April 9 of the Gregorian calendar for 2024. Muslims believe that during this month, the Prophet Muhammad was visited by an angel who revealed the beginnings of what would become the Quran, the Islamic holy text.

During Ramadan, Muslims participate in a daily fast that prohibits eating from sunrise to sunset. Many Muslims also devote themselves to prayer and study of the Quran during Ramadan and can participate in a month-long recitation of the Quran, reciting one of its 30 sections each day during the holy month.

Muslims also observe Ramadan by helping the poor and needy in their communities and avoiding sinful activities. During the month of Ramadan, rewards for good acts, service and dedication are believed to be multiplied compared to the rest of the year.

Many Muslims have found a home at the Institute in the Muslim Students Association (MSA), which provides religious and cultural events for Muslims year-round. The Technique spoke to Renee Alnoubani, third-year CE and MSA president, about how Muslims and MSA are observing Ramadan on campus.

Alnoubani explained why Ramadan is an important time for MSA and for Muslims in general.

“[Since] we believe that during Ramadan, all your good deeds are multiplied, way more than throughout the year, everyone is engaged and doing as much good as they can this month, whether it’s donating, engaging in prayer, fasting or just helping people out,” Alnoubani said.

Due to the fasting practice, many Muslims participate in a morning meal called a suhoor and an evening meal called an iftar. Iftars occur right after sunset when the fasting period has ended and can include prayers with the community.

According to Alnoubani, the most important event that MSA holds during Ramadan is the weekly iftars that give Muslim students on campus free access to food and an opportunity to build community.

“We hold to-go iftars and weekly iftars for students that give students an opportunity to eat together and have access to food. Fasting all day can be really hard, and we are students, so sometimes we don’t have the time or opportunity to make dinner,” Alnoubani said.

According to Alnoubani, over 350 people attended MSA’s most recent iftar. The iftars serve a vital role for Muslims on campus during Ramadan since they cannot eat when most of the on-campus vendors and dining halls operate during traditional business hours. 

In addition to being restricted by this time frame, Muslims can only eat halal meat from an animal killed according to approved methods intended to minimize suffering for the animal. Alnoubani explained how this has impacted Muslims on campus.

“When people break their fast at dining halls, they can only eat vegetables and pastries. They can’t eat meat [there], and that is a problem year-long. [Food access] is a bigger issue during Ramadan because the Student Center food vendors close before 3 o’clock, too,” Alnoubani said.

MSA is working on improving access to food by working with the Student Government Association (SGA). Alnoubani said, “We are going to continue advocacy and work with SGA next year to provide more options for students when they are fasting.”

Alnoubani also explained that MSA has struggled to find a designated space on campus where the organization can meet regularly. Currently, MSA regularly meets in the reflection room on the third floor of the John Lewis Student Center, but Alnoubani said she would appreciate having a designated space.

“It would be very nice to have our own space, like the Black Student Organizations Lounge and other places in the Student Center, just because our community is huge. [Planners] accounted for the reflection room and other spaces, which is great, but I don’t think they realized how big our community is,” Alnoubani said.

MSA has also been hosting nightly prayers called Taraweeh. During these daily prayers, the leader of the prayer recites a thirtieth of the Quran so that by the end of Ramadan, they have covered the entire book.

Alnoubani also explained that many also participate in early morning prayers called Tahajjud and what they mean to her.

“Another thing we do is wake up early and pray before sunrise. Because it is thought that is when God descends to the lowest heaven and is basically asking for people who are making supplication and saying, ‘I will respond to your supplication.’ He is always listening to us and always responding to our prayers, but that is the time that God wants us to engage in prayer the most because it takes the most effort. There is no one around. It is just complete silence, and you can really just focus on the emotional things,” Alnoubani said.

Alnoubani said that MSA is also hosting a fundraiser during Ramadan to build water pumps and wells in areas worldwide that do not have easy access to water. Last year, they raised $4,000 to build two wells and are looking to provide more this year.

Alnoubani explained that this Ramadan was especially important for her and her community given the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine. She said that her club has organized many events to support the people of Palestine, and Ramadan offers students a period of mindfulness  about the turbulent situation.

“I’m Palestinian, so this month has been especially moving and enriching for me because of the consciousness about what is going on in Palestine. It has been the same for our entire community. In every prayer, we are always making a supplication to God for Palestine,” Alnoubani said.

This year’s Ramadan came at an important moment for the people in Alnoubani’s community, providing an opportunity to turn to spirituality during a difficult time for the community.

“We all needed this Ramadan because we have been so tired and sad about what is happening, and it gives us a really good outlet to turn to God about all those things,” Alnoubani said.

Many students may be used to observing Ramadan at home with their families but are currently separated from their family while living on campus. 

Alnoubani hopes that MSA can provide a similar sense of community and belonging to Muslims on campus while they are away from their families.

“We have a lot of international students, so they are far from home, and they do not have families to return to — so that is exactly what we provide. We provide that community for them to come to, so we have the iftars and nightly prayers,” Alnoubani said.

For Alnoubani, MSA has provided a home where she does not feel separated from her religion, culture and family during Ramadan or other religious observances. She said, “I don’t feel like I’m away from my family. I feel like MSA is my family.”