Q&A: MSA members reflect during month of Ramadan
April 8, 2023
Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, began March 22. During this time, Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset, restraining from food and water. Muslims celebrate the end of the month with one of their two religious holidays, Eid al-Fitr, which spans for three days. A few Muslim Student Association members reflect on their experience with Ramadan and what the month means to them.
In your own words, what does Ramadan mean to you?
Junior Kiyaan Aly: “Ramadan is a time for spiritual union and gathering. I think a lot of [the time] we attribute it to a material aspect and the idea of gathering as a community. Yes, while it is about coming together, especially at the time of iftar — breaking of the fast — which is meant to be a community meal, it’s also a time for us to connect more with God in the spiritual sense. To read more [Islamic] literature, perform more prayer and to carry on the traditions and practices of Ramadan throughout the year as well.”
Senior Maheen Tharwani: “Ramadan is the month of fasting and it’s different for all Muslims, but personally, I focus on reflecting, having my connection closer to Allah and working on myself more. A lot of people during this month fast for self control; the idea is that if you can resist the stuff you need like food and water, you can resist all of the stuff you don’t need — the stuff that goes against our values.”
Junior Olivia Vaughan: “To me, Ramadan is a moment of peace and clarity, especially at the end of the year and the way it falls on the Islamic calendar. It’s this time where I can really focus on my religion and remember it’ll always be there for me, even when I’m going through this really tough time at the end of [the] school [year].”
How do you and/or your family commemorate Ramadan?
Aly: “In our branch [of Islam], we talk about something called zikr, which is [when you call] out the 99 names of Allah and basically repeat those names and meditate — it’s a time for us to connect with God in a spiritual manner. [Something else] that is important is “The Night of Power,” Laylat al-Qadr, the time when the prophet [Muhammad] received the first revelations from God [and] is a time of spiritual union. [There’s also] physical practices, like getting your mehndi done at the time of Eid and doing [your] namaz — you come together as a community and it’s one of our two holidays. It’s a time of great happiness for all of us. We’ve been fasting for the entire month and so this is [a] chance for us [to come together]. It’s a really pleasant feeling.”
Tharwani: “Whenever we have to break our fast for iftar, everybody comes together and eats meals. At the end of the day, no matter what we’re doing, no matter how busy we’ve been throughout the day, every single day we come together to eat [and] break our fast — that’s what I really enjoy.”
Vaughan: “Personally, I don’t, but that’s only because I became Muslim three years ago. I am still kind of finding my balance within the religion, but I know a lot of my friends like Kiyaan and [junior] Vaneeza [Bhojani] do things together [to] commemorate. Like, in the library we have a special room where they all go and sit and pray for the midday prayer. It’s things like that, they make special things happen for kids like me who are new to the religion or don’t necessarily have an outlet outside of school to appreciate the religion.”
What in particular do you look forward to every year when Ramadan is approaching?
Aly: “I really look forward to fasting. The idea is that when you give up [things while] fasting, you’re able to reserve that time when you eat to do something else for your faith. So, what I’ve been able to do during lunches, last year especially, we had the prayer room open, so I would do more of that meditation and zikr. I [also want to] read more [Islamic] literature — last year is when I started to read [more books] and after Ramadan, I still continued to read. It’s a good feeling for me because our literature is an important aspect of the faith and teaches us a lot more about what we should do in our ethics and morals and how we can apply that to our regular lives.”
Tharwani: “As a Shia Imam Ismaili Muslim, I go to Jamatkhana — it’s not a mosque, but it’s where we go to pray, and for me, going to Jamatkhana to pray during that time is what I look forward to. Just the community, the culture, the vibes [and] the environment is so different. Looking forward to Eid at the end of Ramadan is also my favorite — just celebrating with my friends and family [since] everyone’s in this [high] spirit and everybody’s lifted and joyful.”
Vaughan: “I know it’s never my favorite part in the moment, but I look forward to fasting because of that feeling of completion and devotion at the end of the day. Knowing that I got through that without having to rely on the fact that I could eat if I wanted to, it’s just a really good feeling.”
What are some frequent misconceptions you hear from your peers about Ramadan?
Aly: “A lot of people are [surprised] when they hear we don’t drink water. There’s always that one phrase, ‘even water?’ I think everyone asks that question because they’re shocked over that fact. They think it’s difficult and, yes, while I do admit that it is difficult, the idea is that if you’re able to connect on that spiritual [level] enough, [it won’t be that bad]. The idea of fasting is to discipline yourself [and] when you give up something material, you’re able to focus on the spiritual. That’s how a lot of Muslims think about it, and if you’re able to think enough and devote enough of yourself to the spiritual life, then you’re able to give up food easily.”
Tharwani: “A lot of people think we’re starving ourselves during Ramadan – they assume we don’t eat for a month straight – but it’s just fasting from sunrise to sunset. Another thing is that people say if you [don’t] fast [through] not eating, then you’re not really committing to Ramadan. Personally, I believe that fasting can be in different ways. Restraining from food and water is one of them, but whether it’s just cutting out certain bad habits, working on being kinder to people or doing something everyday that helps the community for Ramadan — overall, as long as you’re working on making yourself better and working on your connection, [Ramadan] is just a self-reflection thing you work on.”
Vaughan: “I hear a lot of [people thinking] it’s forced. [But] I have a lot of Muslim friends who are very pick-and-choose with what you can do and you have that freedom with celebrating Ramadan to pick and choose what aspects [you] feel are honestly the best representation of the holiday. It isn’t an all-or-nothing deal and you can contribute to it in your own way.”
What’s your favorite part about Ramadan?
Aly: “Definitely Eid. It’s such a happy time, all of us are dressed up in colorful clothes. All of the women have mehndi on and it’s just such a bright and festive occasion. On other special occasions, the guys are wearing suits, but no — this is the one day where everyone is wearing traditional clothing and it’s all colorful stuff. It’s such a fun time, you have these meals and the entire family and community comes together to the table and we all eat together. You feel proud, like ‘I am a Muslim and this is our faith and community and we all come together for this special occasion,’ and that’s the best part.”
Tharwani: “I would say [I] look forward to the build up to Eid, just everyone looking forward to it and counting down the days till Eid.”
Vaughan: “The sense of community — everyone really comes together when you’re fasting to uplift each other and to just keep true to the aspect that you’re choosing to celebrate that year [and] the part [you’re] really focusing on. Last year, I didn’t do too well with my fasting, so this year I’m really pushing for it, and to do that I’ve had several friends who text me reminders throughout the day, like ‘hey, you got this’ and we’ll send each other quotes from the Quran. Watching everyone come together is really amazing.”
What’s the most frustrating and difficult part of the month?
Aly: “The frustrating part is school when it comes to fasting. Teachers a lot of times around this time of the year, they plan a lot of parties and I’m not able to partake in that. Teachers have huge tests, like we have AP exams coming up two weeks after Ramadan, and it’s difficult for me to study. Whenever I get home, I cannot study; I have to take a nap because all I can think about is food. It gets a little stressful because I need to focus on this spiritual side of my life, but I have school that I need to take care of. I wish teachers made it easier for us somehow. I understand tests [and certain things] can’t be online, but it’s certainly something I wish teachers would look more upon.”
Tharwani: “I feel like, for me, there’s nothing that’s frustrating. I don’t fast every day for personal reasons, but I feel like fasting itself could be a little difficult, like if I have a [busy] day or something and I’m exhausted and I need water — it’s just difficult in that sense.”
Vaughan: “For me, it’s the fact that I was not born into the religion — I chose the religion. [It] makes Ramadan more special for me because I’m doing this willingly and I found Allah in my own way, but what frustrates me is that I’m not taken seriously when I say I’m celebrating. But MSA has been a really big help in finding a way to be included.”
Do you have any specific goals set for Ramadan — if so, what?
Aly: “This year, I want to read more books and also go to the mosque more often. Especially last year and [the] year before, the mosque was closed [due to] COVID-19, so it takes time for us to adjust because we were out of the mosque for so long. Now that we’re getting adjusted, I want to make sure I’m going every single day, and not only that — the biggest goal is to [take] the practices carried out in Ramadan and carry them throughout the year. A lot of us get lost in the fact that this is the holy month, so once this month is over, we can stop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way – the prophet said that fasting is not only for Ramadan, you can fast outside of that, so my goal is to carry that spiritual aspect outside of Ramadan.”
Tharwani: “My biggest struggles, in general, are procrastinating, not treating my body right, not eating well and that type of stuff. It’s more [of] just clearing my mind mentally and giving myself that time and space to reflect and think — just trying to stay on top of my work, like not falling behind in school, my job [or] any extracurriculars. [Overall,] just using this time to motivate me, stay on top of my stuff and do better overall.”
Vaughan: “My goal is, by the end of this [month], to be more organized with my faith. Right now, I’m very give and take when I take my time to devote myself. I’ve been trying my best every night to sit down with my Quran and read three chapters. My goal is to get through the Quran by the end of the month and come out of it feeling like I have this routine to go back to — like I can reread this a million times because I’m always going to have a different interpretation and different way that it helps me in my life right now.”