By Camila Dadabhoy
Muslims all around the world finished dinner and gathered outside their homes to stare at the bright, star-filled sky last Thursday evening, May 16. They were in search of the crescent moon; if they saw it, the holy month of Ramadan would begin. Sure enough, the moon was sighted from a few different places in the United States, including Texas and Southern California, initiating the start of Ramadan: a Muslim’s most blessed time of year.
In the Islamic religion, the month of Ramadan is a time where Muslims from all different parts of the globe unite in prayer and fasting to dedicate themselves to God. The 30 days a year fluctuate in time depending on the lunar calendar and the exact sighting of the moon; however, it is practiced by every devout Muslim no matter where they live. The days consist of fasting from dawn until dusk and coming together to read the Quran during a daily evening prayer, typically led by an Imam, a Muslim cleric. The month concludes with Eid, the Islamic equivalent of Christmas, where families and friends join in celebration with food and presents.
The fast, one of the main aspects of this holy month, teaches Muslims the qualities of patience, gratitude, and having faith in their God, Allah. They wake right before dawn to eat Suhoor, a morning meal, and break fast at sunset with a dinner meal called Iftar. One of the five pillars of Islam (along with the daily prayers, giving charity, completing the holy pilgrimage, and always keeping faith) the month of Ramadan is an incredibly precious time for Muslims to devote themselves to God and give thanks for all that he has provided them.
Just as the month of Ramadan has touched the rest of the world, our very own UCI campus has welcomed this holy time with open arms and quite a lot of food. The Muslim Student Union, or MSU, on campus is one of the largest organizations at UCI, consisting of almost 75 active members and serving around 200 students through their events. For over 25 years, the MSU has strived to nurture a community that supports individuals through academic, personal, spiritual, and professional growth in their relationships and with God, including resources such as a space for religious practice and comfort in their own skin amongst other students.
“We hold all kinds of activities for Muslim students to get involved in at school, like campus awareness events such as the Islam Awareness series,” says third-year MSU Vice President Sara Baggia. “One of my favorite events is College Day, which is where high school students get to see UCI through a Muslim student lens.”
The MSU provides a variety of services during the month of Ramadan for students on campus to stay in touch with their religion, even if they have a long commute or live away from home. Their resources consist of organizing chaplaincy with an Imam for students, Quran classes, a space to pray throughout the day, leading Friday Jummah prayers, Taraweeh evening prayers from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and the biggest service: a full free Iftar offered Monday through Thursday, taking place at the Cross-Cultural Center on campus. The “Cross”, as most members call it, has become a sort of hub for Muslim students to come together and pray in comfort, eat dinners, and help each other through their academic and personal endeavors.
“We are very lucky to have active alumni and contributing community members who donate money to our club, which helps fund these meals. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful things because there are more people at daily prayers, people reading Quran together out loud at random hours of the day, and our club being able to feed and break fast with around 150 people all together,” Baggia said.
Throughout the year, the MSU provides an array of events including Chai (tea) nights, bonfires, cook-offs, and Quran reading circles, all leading up to their largest event: the end of the year banquet. The banquet helps commemorate the services given and friendships made throughout the year at the MSU, celebrating the graduating seniors and bringing the year to a close.
“Once I come to campus, I don’t want to leave! It’s such a welcoming environment here at the Cross; there’s so many blessings around it,” said active member and fourth-year student Qoodseya Afredi. “I think the one thing I’m going to miss most about UCI after I graduate is MSU and all the people I met through it. It’s such an amazing place for us. I feel like I made my friends for a lifetime.”
Students like Afredi have come to cherish the memories and blessings made at the UCI Muslim Student Union and all it provides for our Anteater community because coming together during this holy month to strengthen each other’s faiths, join to break fast and unite through religion is what Ramadan is all about.