Ramadan: More than a Fast

Four a.m. Though dubbed to be an ungodly hour to wake up for most, it is anything but for Muslims across the world as they stumble out of bed for suhoor, a pre-dawn meal during Ramadan before beginning their fast.

Courtesy of Zaheer Mohiudiin

Courtesy of Zaheer Mohiudiin

As determined by the sighting of the new moon, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — or Ramazaan, as pronounced in Persian and Urdu — began on the 8th and 9th of July (the division due to differences of opinion on methods with which the moon is seen). Those who are able to do so observe this month most notably by abstaining from eating and drinking everyday during daylight hours.

But for many, including second-year MSU member and undecided/undeclared major, Tasmia Moosani, Ramadan is a month spent on reflection and prayer.

“Ramadan is like a cleanse, a chance every year to break bad habits and become a better Muslim,” she says. In line with physical restrictions, many strive to follow the teachings of Islam. The five daily prayers are to be completed in order for a fast to be valid and are often complemented with frequent readings of the Qur’an. Additional nightly prayers, Tarawih, reserved for the month of Ramadan are led at mosques.

“It’s an opportunity for us to benefit from, a month to purify the heart. It keeps us humble and helps us realize how blessed we are,” Moosani says.

Quite a lot of time is spent with family throughout Ramadan as well.

“You’re likely to be surrounded by a ton of friends and family,” Abir Siddiqui, a third-year political science major.

“Whether we’re going to the mosque to pray or at a friend or family member’s house to share a meal after a long day of fasting, the night is filled with activities and there’s always something to do.”

Iftar parties to break the fast for the day are common, ranging from a small intimate affair to large-scale community events held at mosques before prayer time at sunset.

“Ramadan has always been a priority for me,” Moosani said.

“Growing up, my parents would tell me that the month of Ramadan is a blessing because it strengthens families and gives a peaceful feeling that we hope to keep throughout the year.”

Despite the heavy emphasis on familial relations during Ramadan, it is a factor that many university students forgo, especially when Ramadan falls during peaks in the school year or when summer session has started. Not having a support system during the month of fasting can prove to be difficult for some, but many, like UCI student Ahmad Ali, are able to find other ways of recreating a sense of solidarity within their communities.

“I’m not spending Ramadan this year with my family,” Ali said, a biology major and member of UCI’s MSU.

“I’m attending summer session, but I’m also spending it at iftars with brothers here and at tarawih. They are a second family to me.”

With a different community comes diversity. The students that make up the Muslim Student Union at UCI are descended from a variety of cultures and ethnicities, which leads to many different traditions surrounding Ramadan. Lanterns are lit and hung in Egypt. In Pakistan, there are bazaars open until the early hours of suhoor.

Courtesy of Samah Malik

Courtesy of Samah Malik

“I’ve gotten to see a lot of diverse Ramadan traditions thanks to the mosque I go to and the Muslim friends that I’ve made throughout the years,” Siddiqui said.

“As a university student, I have re-embraced Islam, not through arcane rituals my forefathers practiced, but instead through the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad,” Ali said.

Though Islam is one of the most followed religions in the United States, Muslims rank quite small in number in comparison to other faith systems. Of the total population in the U.S, .8 percent account as Muslim, according to the latest census.

“I go to the mosque more frequently, I have memorized more passages of the Qur’an. It’s awakened the sleeping Muslim inside of me,” Ali said.

“I think that by restraining ourselves and through the self control that we acquire, we go through a spiritual cleansing throughout this month,” Siddiqui said.

Self-restraint in regards to hunger and thirst is also matched mentally and verbally; many refrain from using profanity and disengage from worldly activities. Some go as far as not listening to music or watching films. Observing Ramadan in a county where most aren’t is vastly different than doing so in countries where more of the population is doing so as well.

“People who have a vague understanding of Ramadan often think that it’s just a month where we starve ourselves in order to maybe relate to the poor. It’s a misconception that many of my friends have,” Siddiqui said.

“I’ve never really had to explain it before, but the concept of fasting is nothing new to religion, especially for those that are Abrahamic. Each practices its own variation of fasting, the purpose universally becoming closer to God,” Ahmad said.

“I’d say that the core of practicing Ramadan is standard for everyone,” Siddiqui said.

UCI’s Muslim Student Union has partnered with UCI’s Al Kalima Student Magazine to publish “30 Nights of Ramadan,” an online photo and essay project composed of submissions from members of the MSU across the state making a countdown through the thirty days of fasting to Eid ul Fitr, the celebration following Ramadan. Photographs encompass scenes from various mosques across California (as well as notable ones in different countries), while reflective writing entries display the reverence Muslims have for this time of year. The online project also includes a recipe guide for iftar inspirations.

“Fasting is merely a symbolic way of controlling our bodily and worldly needs in an attempt to become closer to God. It’s both personal and spiritual,” Siddiqui said.