Ramadan unites Muslim students during Camp Yale

This year’s Camp Yale fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, posing a unique challenge for observant Muslims, who fast from sunrise to sunset and use the time to reflect on themselves and God.
This year’s Camp Yale fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, posing a unique challenge for observant Muslims, who fast from sunrise to sunset and use the time to reflect on themselves and God. Photo by Sebastian Prokuski.

While her new classmates were worrying about which courses to take and how to work the laundry machines, Wazhma Sadat ’14 also had another concern: fasting.

Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, so every year it moves earlier relative to the solar Gregorian calendar. For the past several years, Ramadan has fallen near the beginning of the school year.

So every night, between 80 and 100 Muslim students gather for the“iftar” meal in Battell Chapel to pray and break the day’s fast, which Sana Samnani ’12, president of the Muslim Student Association, said gives Muslim freshmen a strong sense of community as soon as they arrive on campus.

“It shows freshmen — it showed me — that there is a Muslim community here,” Samnani said. “It might be one of the reasons I’m involved here.”

At the same time, fasting during the beginning of the year presents many challenges, especially for freshmen. Moving in and setting up rooms can be tiring; many of the welcoming events for freshmen involve food; and Muslim students end up missing the evening activities, during which they go to pray and eat, students said.

Faten Sayed ’13 said that she missed out on meeting some freshmen when she first got to Yale because of Ramadan, but said she was touched when non-Muslims she did meet were interested in coming to iftar.

“The impressive thing is that our students are able to balance their personal religious obligations and being Yale students and starting the semester,” said Omer Bajwa, Yale’s coordinator for Muslim life.

Residential college deans and freshmen counselors help accommodate the observant students, Bajwa said. Yale Dining provides food in Battell Chapel early every morning and a large iftar meal there every night. Before meal plans took effect, Bajwa assembled packets of food for students for the morning and asked community members to sponsor each night’s dinner. Bajwa estimates that the entire Yale Muslim community numbers between 200 and 300 people, some of who choose not to fast, and some of who fast most days but on certain days do not do so because of strenuous activities or health reasons.

The Muslim community made the transition to Yale easier, Obaid Syed ’14 said, and he was impressed by the nightly iftar.

“I didn’t really expect much,” Syed said. “I thought I’d have to go to restaurants by myself or scavenge food.”

Samnani said the iftars are especially important for international students from Muslim countries, who see that strong Muslim communities also exist in the U.S.

Sadat said marking iftar at Yale is in some ways more special than observing it back home in Kabul, Afghanistan. She said it is important to go on with normal life while fasting, rather than fasting while the surrounding Muslim society slows down for the month as she experienced in Afghanistan. And, she said, because nobody is making sure she fasts at Yale, the fast becomes a more meaningful personal choice.

The end of Ramadan is expected to be Sept. 10, but that will only be finally confirmed by the sighting of the new moon. Unlike in past years, this year there will be no Ramadan banquet to mark the end of the month, since the shift in the calendar would place it too close to the start of classes. Instead, there will be a banquet in November to celebrate Eid, the holiday commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of Ishmael.

After 2011, no part of Ramadan will fall during the school year.

“It’s going to be very weird,” Bajwa said. “I’m concerned about preserving institutional memory.”

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