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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Tufts Muslim community leaders reflect on joys, challenges of celebrating Ramadan during the semester

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Decorations from an April 3 Iftar hosted by the Muslim Students Association are pictured.

Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal and reflection, a time for Muslims to take part in a celebration of community, spiritual growth and personal development. The monthlong holiday involves fasting not only from food and drink during the day but also from general bad habits or attitudes that individuals might wish to change.

Tufts Muslim Chaplain Najiba Akbar notes that one thing non-Muslims may not understand about Ramadan is the fact that many in the Muslim community look forward to it.

“I think people are surprised to learn that Muslims look forward to Ramadan each year and feel sad when it is over!” Akbar wrote in an email to the Daily. “There is something amazing about the experience of fasting and praying as a community and going through that process together. It’s also ok to try fasting if you are curious. Many Muslims invite their friends to fast for a day and break fast with them.”

For someone like Tufts Muslim Student Association Treasurer Yousef Khan, the month is a time to reflect on how to improve oneself in both religious and daily life.

“It’s a time to kind of change who you are for the better,” Khan, a senior, said. “Personally, I'm trying to become someone that’s more time-productive and also more time-efficient, and going back to the bare minimum and being really simplistic kind of lets you reflect.”

Muslim Student Association Co-President Mohamed Samater has similar things in mind for self-development during the month, like using his phone less and using time more effectively. Samater, a senior, also wants to use his fasting time as an opportunity to learn more about Islam.

I want [to use Ramadan] to grow my sense of spirituality,” he said. “Especially during that time I have for lunch. Basically, I’d spend that [time] learning more about Islam, reading books, even communicating with community members, having more group prayers in this time and just being more cognizant of the stuff that I'm doing in the moment.”

Iman Ali, MSA’s other co-president, is also taking advantage of the month to reflect on the Quran and what its passages mean to her. She has been following “Qur’an30 for 30”, a nightly series from the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research that discusses one chapter of the Quran each night of the month of Ramadan.

They’re imparting their learnings and their reflections, and so I've just been really trying to take that in and reflect on, for myself, what those verses mean to me,” Iman, a senior, said. “Even beyond Ramadan, I can look to that and hold on to that.”

Having been mostly observed in the summer or during the tail end of the semester in recent years, Ramadan has been moving progressively further into the school year. This year, the holiday began the evening of April 1 and is set to conclude on May 1.

Muslim Student Association is working to bring the community experience of Ramadan to Medford and Somerville, with a number of events set up for the month, including nightly prayers, or Tarawih; semiweekly communal Iftars, which are breakfast meals after sunset and a number of to-go options through Tufts Dining for Suhoor, also known as the predawn meal. There are also resources available for students to work with the Office of Equal Opportunity to make academic accommodations if needed.

All of this work came from MSA’s persistent work with the university, Ali said.

I have to really give a shout out to our Muslim Chaplain Najiba. She's been at the forefront … being our liaison to administration,” she said. “We really started to talk … about Ramadan in January, and we were having almost weekly meetings, be it with Tufts Dining to make sure that, you know, they’re providing Halal options and also figuring out ways that students [observing Ramadan] would be able to use their meal swipes at late hours of the day.”

The movement of Ramadan to the middle of the semester, Ali says, warranted increased supplementary funding from the Tufts Community Union.

Before we received supplementary funding through TCU, we literally had what I would say are pennies — it wasn’t even enough for an Iftar,” Ali said. Now moving forward, [Ramadan] will be in the school year for many years to come. So it took advocacy on the forefront of student leaders, particularly our treasurer [Yousef Khan] in trying to get us supplementary funding.”

Having Ramadan during the semester has been a learning experience, and MSA leadership hopes to lay the groundwork for how to improve university support for students observing Ramadan on campus, especially given the turnout at MSA Ramadan events.

In the future years, there definitely needs to be consistent funding schemes given to the Muslim Student Association and Muslim Chaplaincy to be able to put on programming, because it is a big effort,Ali said.

Khan agrees, adding that streamlining talks with Tufts Dining would also be quite helpful for future MSA leadership.

The thing with funds and the thing with dining services is that these are agreements made year to year,” Khan said. “So it’d be kind of nice to have something set in stone so that there’s not this … negotiation that has to happen.”

Samater strikes a positive note, emphasizing the importance of community involvement and the role of individuals in helping organize programs for current and future Ramadans.

We had a Ramadan town hall earlier this year, which definitely helped us and motivated us to make sure that we make this Ramadan the best one possible,” he said. “For future MSA board members, I’d recommend planning early."

Community is an overarching theme during the month of Ramadan. For MSA leadership and the Muslim community on campus, finding community in people also fasting while going through the typical rigors of life on campus has been heartwarming, especially with the ability to hold in-person events this school year.

This year, I felt it was especially important for the community at Tufts to gather together for breaking the fast because it was difficult to do that for the past two years due to Covid,” Akbar wrote. “Ramadan has presented us with a wonderful opportunity to build community and be together, and rebuild some of the bonds that were broken by the isolation of the past few years.

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