Right now, many Eastern Mennonite University students and alumni – wherever they’re waiting out the coronavirus pandemic – are observing the month of Ramadan. The ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a time during which Muslims fast each day and observe various practices of self-reflection, connection to God, and generosity.
This year, the month began for many Muslims on the evening of April 23 (the first day of fasting is determined by the sighting of the new moon) and will end at sundown on May 23. EMU’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion issued a special newsletter in April for the EMU community in conjunction with the Center for Interfaith Engagement.
“Just as our Christian friends celebrate Easter and our Jewish friends Passover, this time of the year is holy to our Muslim friends,” said CIE director and CODI member Timothy Seidel. “In this newsletter, Muslim students were invited to share reflections. Their generous responses offered insights about Ramadan and its meaning to them and to our EMU community.”
“Celebrating Ramadan is an opportunity to highlight the importance and value of religious diversity, religious literacy and interfaith engagement and inclusion at EMU,” said senior Elena Bernardi, a peacebuilding and development major who served a practicum with CIE during the spring semester and co-wrote a short essay on religious diversity for the newsletter.
In addition to a list of resources, students and graduates took the opportunity to share common practices, as well as how the annual celebration personally impacted them.
“Typically, fasting begins around dawn and ends at sunset,” Maha Mehana MA ‘19, GC ‘20 explains. “To prepare and begin their fast, Muslims usually eat breakfast right before dawn, pray, and bless their fast. While fasting for the rest of the day, they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in any sexual activity.”
Then, at sunset, “families break the fast with the iftar, traditionally opening the meal by eating dates to commemorate Prophet Mohammed’s practice of breaking the fast with three dates. They then adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five required daily prayers, after which the main meal is served,” says Mehana.
Hosam Hadid, who graduated with an MS in biomedicine this month, describes Ramadan as a month to “recharge our souls so that we don’t lose sight of our creator for the next 11 months. It is a month of submission to the one above.”
This year is the second time he’s observed Ramadan while enrolled at EMU.
“I can confidently say that I’ve never felt so celebrated and included the way EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement has made me feel,” Hadid says.
Aminata Wallet Mohamed ‘18, now a graduate student in conflict transformation, says that the fasting keeps observers in “a state of constant spiritual awakening.”
“The purpose of Ramadan is to purify the body and mind, and to better understand the difficulties of the poorest. According to the tradition, healthy people must fast except for children who have not reached puberty, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly,” she says.
As in many religious traditions, fasting for Ramadan is not just a physical practice, but a spiritual and emotional discipline.
“It invites us to be more considerate towards giving to those in need, avoiding wrongdoings, being humble, and complete submission to God,” says Muhammad Akram, who graduated with an MA in conflict transformation this month.
For some, what they decide to eat once night falls is another intentional decision.
“Ramadan for me now is all about cleansing for my body and my soul. I try to eat healthy everyday, and eat only plants based foods. I also try to be more present every day to see the beauty surrounding me,” says undergraduate student Fatimah Subhi.