International Studies & Programs

Spartans observe Ramadan

Muslim students explain what the holy month means for them

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Published: Monday, 20 Apr 2020 Author: Danielle Fowler

Special note: On Wednesday, April 22 at 4:00p.m. the Muslim Studies Program offered a webinar titled “Ramadan and COVID-19: MSU Faculty Answer Your Questions.” Hosted by Mohammad Khalil, the director of the Muslim Studies Program, and Farha Abbasi, an assistant professor of psychiatry.

Beginning around April 23, Muslims around the world (and here at MSU) will begin observing the holy month of Ramadan. Though non-Muslims know Ramadan mostly as a month when Muslims don’t eat or drink during the day, for adherents, its significance is much deeper.

What Is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a period of fasting and spiritual growth, and one of the five pillars (or duties) of Islam. During Ramadan, able-bodied Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn to sunset every day of the month.

“To me, Ramadan is spending one month a year to ground yourself,” says Fattima Ali, a junior majoring in comparative cultures and politics in James Madison College. “It’s time to self-reflect, strengthen your relationship with God, and remember to be kind to those who are less fortunate.”

The Qur’an (Koran) explains that fasting was prescribed for Muslims so they may become more conscious of God. They believe that by abstaining from things that people tend to take for granted, they may be moved to reflect on the purpose of life and grow closer to their creator.

"[Ramadan] is a time to self-reflect, strengthen your relationship with God, and remember to be kind to those who are less fortunate."

Areeba Nadeem, a junior double majoring in social relations and public policy and philosophy, sees fasting during Ramadan as a time of heightened compassion. “Fasting lets me step back and actually get a glimpse of the realities of widespread poverty,” she says. “We live in an individualized society, and participating in Ramadan is important now more than ever to remind us what living in a community and caring for each other actually means.”

For many, Ramadan also means reconnecting with family. “My family eats the pre-dawn meal together, gathers again for the nighttime meal, and then we head to the mosque as a family,” says Hamza Kaakarli, a junior studying neuroscience and the vice president of the MSU Muslim Students’ Association. “We spend much more time with each other and through our fasting become closer to one another.”

Adherents who are ill, traveling, pregnant, or unable to fast for other reasons are exempt from the fast. Those who can are expected to make up for missed days later in the year. “It’s a misconception that Muslims are forced to fast,” says Ali. “I think everyone should spend a few days of the year fasting to ground themselves and align their lives to their personal values.”

Eid al-Fitr

After the month is over, Muslims celebrate one of the two major holidays of the year: Eid al-Fitr, which means “the festival of breaking the fast.” For many Muslims, this is a day of family reunions, meals, presents, and music. 

Though different cultures celebrate Eid differently, “having fun on the day is what is asked of Muslims,” says Nadeem. “My favorite part of Eid is going to the mosque for Eid prayer and seeing folks from all sorts of backgrounds wearing their own traditional clothing and eating their own traditional foods. Even with so much diversity, every Muslim still partakes in the same joys of the holiday. It feels like I’m part of a community, where everyone congratulates each other not because it’s an arbitrary holiday, but because we all challenged ourselves in Ramadan and made it.”

“Every year is a great and memorable Eid,” says Ahmad Hammad, a senior in Lyman Briggs and the president of the MSU Muslim Students’ Association. “But the most memorable one is when my whole extended family went to Six Flags together. With matching shirts.”

Ramadan & COVID-19

This year however, the novel coronavirus pandemic means unexpected changes in plans for the holiday. “Ramadan and Eid will not be celebrated with my community, something I never thought possible,” says Kaakarli.
But the essential aspects of Ramadan remain strong.  “I will continue fasting, as will my family, and we will shift from night prayers at the mosque to having them at home,” he says. “It will be a very unique experience, one that will take some getting used to, but I think in the end, Ramadan and Eid are meant to bring us closer to God.”

Muslim students remaining on campus during Ramadan have access to takeout meals at MSU’s dining halls. Some organizations and mosques, like the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan and the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing, are hosting online webinars and livestreams in place of physical gatherings.

Do you have more questions about Ramadan? Contact Mohammad Khalil, director of the Muslim Studies Program at MSU, or check out his piece about Ramadan in The Conversation: “Why Ramadan is Called Ramadan: 6 questions answered.