Muslim students look ahead to a full month of Ramadan during finals season
This is the first time all of Ramadan has taken place entirely in-semester since 2008
For the first time in over 10 years, Muslim students at American University will observe Ramadan entirely during the semester, from April 2 to May 2.
Ramadan, which commemorates the prophet Muhammad’s first revelation and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, changes dates every year because it is celebrated according to the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. For the past several years, Ramadan has occurred partly or entirely during the summer. The last time Muslim students observed Ramadan entirely during the course of the academic year was in the late 2000s.
Amaarah DeCuir is a professor in the School of Education and is in her second year as the Muslim Student Association’s faculty adviser. She described Ramadan as a change in a student’s life schedule during that month, with students getting up early for the pre-sunrise meal, known as suhoor, and spending time in the evening doing increased nighttime prayers.
Academic accommodations may be granted to Muslim students, although it is a student’s responsibility to go to each professor to ask for them. Some examples of accommodations include extensions, time to break fasting for night classes and asynchronous options.
College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Sarah Selougha, who was part of the MSA’s executive board during Ramadan last year, said it was difficult trying to get accommodations for Muslim students.
“It was something as simple as making sure professors even knew what was going on,” Selougha said. “That was the really tough thing of being on the MSA was like, ‘How do we provide accommodations? How do we talk to these professors to give us accommodations? What is reasonable?’”
With finals season approaching, some Muslim students are feeling nervous about how their academic performance will be impacted, Selougha said. However, she noted that the experience of fasting for Ramadan is not the same for everyone.
“There's a lot of anxiety, I would say, for a lot of Muslims at AU,” Selougha said. “For me, I personally like being preoccupied while I'm fasting. It makes the day go by faster. However, there's a lot of physical aspects that can impede schoolwork and stuff, so not eating will make you more tired or make you less focused I would say, so I am a bit worried.”
School of International Service sophomore Maysa Haj-Mabrouk, MSA co-president, met with the dean of students to discuss dining services for Muslim students observing Ramadan this semester. The end result was a collaboration between the MSA and AU Dining to provide boxed meals to students. Students will be able to pick up meals in TDR with a meal swipe or $11.89 by credit or Eaglebucks. The food will be served for iftar, the meal eaten after sunset to break the daily fast, and suhoor, the meal eaten before sunrise. This system is especially important for suhoor, allowing students to pick up their meal in advance since TDR opens after sunrise.
Haj-Mabrouk said that AU can help Muslim students during this time by telling professors to be more accomodating since fasting can take a lot of energy from students.
“Fasting everyday for 30 days, from dusk to sunset, that's going to take a lot, and for professors to kind of be like ‘you can wait half an hour [until class ends]’... it feels like there's a barrier just because it's like a religious aspect and that's normally kept private unless you're having intimate conversation,” Sallam said.
Haj-Mabrouk emphasized that a lot of Muslim students are really excited for Ramadan, despite it sounding difficult to fast and get accommodations from professors.
“That doesn't beat … the excitement that comes from being a community and engaging in this together,” Haj-Mabrouk said. “And so, I'm really, really excited and I know a lot of others in the MSA and just in the Muslim student body in general can’t wait for Ramadan.”
“It’s a month of blessings,” DeCuir added.
However, DeCuir voiced similar concerns to students’. Although she said AU is doing a good job accommodating students during Ramadan, she said there are still changes she would like to see— not just for Muslim students, but for students of all faiths.
“As it stands now, students with faith identities are required to ask for religious accommodations,” DeCuir wrote in an email following an interview with The Eagle. “This subjects the student to being a petitioner, one who has to ask another person in power for access to their right to be accommodated. If I were to make an institutional change, I would ask that religious accommodations should be considered the norm.”
DeCuir said she does not recall having to intervene in any challenging interactions with professors when students asked for accommodations last year. However, she emphasized that the situation is different this year because Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, did not fall during finals like it does this year.
CAS senior Yasmeen Sallam, a member of the MSA, said she had to have a discussion with her professors to get accommodations for Ramadan. Initially, some of Sallam’s professors for her 5:30 p.m. block classes wanted her to wait for class to end to break her fast, since it was close to sunset time. However, Sallam’s commute back home takes an hour and after further discussions, Sallam said her professors seemed to be more accommodating.
“I definitely feel a sense of understanding,” Sallam said. “I do feel for the professors because I understand it's not easy for them to kind of change their schedule or do something like that in order just because of one student. So that kind of makes me feel really bad about the situation.”
Sallam said she has a bicultural family — her father is Egyptian and Muslim, and her mother is Vietnamese and Muslim but does not fast. She predominantly lived with her mother since her parents were separated, making Ramadan a very special time for Sallam, who would fast by herself or with her dad. She said she never got to feast with a big family, so she always felt connected to Ramadan since it made her feel happier and more fulfilled.
Because of this deep sense of connection, Sallam said she values her belief and religion and wants to prioritize it, and that has motivated her to keep trying to get accommodations for herself and the rest of the Muslim student body on campus.
“They're sending emails out to professors just to acknowledge Ramadan and acknowledge students that are going to be fasting,” Sallam said. “But still I feel like there's just a little bit of lack of communication and that's kind of what you get in a school that has a minority population of Muslims, but I see their effort and definitely, definitely recognize it and appreciate it.”
Ghiyath Nakshbendi is a professor in the Kogod School of Business, a former MSA faculty adviser and the current Muslim chaplain on campus. Nakshbendi said it is important to remember Ramadan is about more than just fasting.
“I don't want people to assume that Ramadan, [is just abstention] from food,” Nakshbendi said. “This is a very narrow definition of Ramadan.”
Selougha shared Nakshbendi’s perspective and said that Ramadan is also about abstaining from negative habits such as cursing and fighting with others.
Selougha also spoke about the community aspect of Ramadan that brings people together.
“Every single day my family at sunset will get together and eat together,” Selougha said. “There is also a sense of community for sunset prayers when [Muslims] go to the mosque.”
Nakshbendi said that it is considered very important in Islam to break the fast with other people, and that it is not common to break it by yourself. This is more complicated during the semester, however, when sunset occurs during evening classes, forcing students to choose between stepping out to quickly break the fast on their own or to wait a little longer until class is over.
One way non-Muslim students can support their Muslim peers, Nakshbendi said, is simply by greeting them for Ramadan.
“If you know somebody, if you know that that person is a Muslim, telling [them] ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ is like telling him Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah,” Nakshbendi said.
DeCuir emphasized the importance of non-Muslims educating themselves. For example, she said the process of asking for accommodations would be easier if professors were more knowledgeable about Ramadan.
“When people know better, they do better,” DeCuir said.