“Ramadan mubarak!” This week roughly 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will be repeating that phrase, meaning “Happy and blessed Ramadan!” In its religious context, Ramadan is a time of fasting, feasting, worship and prayer. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the month during which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and during which Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset each day. The goal of this fasting is to craft discipline and self-restraint; as much as Ramadan is literally about food and drink, it is also about curbing our basic impulses with reflection on the Quran and its message.
Ramadan is also about community; during Ramadan, Muslims gather as always for Friday services and five daily prayers, but Ramadan also allows for two gathering times in particular: the predawn meal (suhoor), in which Muslims prepare for the day of fasting, just before the sun rises; and the breaking of the fast (iftar) at sunset. While fasting is a religious obligation for those who are physically able to do so — fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam along with belief in God, daily prayers, almsgiving and the pilgrimage to Mecca — the Quran makes exceptions for those who are unable to fast, such as pregnant women, the ill or disabled, and those who are traveling, with the stipulation that missed days be made up when one has recovered. As Islam follows a lunar calendar, the timing of Ramadan moves ahead roughly 11 days each year in relation to the Gregorian calendar: this year in North America, Ramadan is expected to run from Oct. 27 until Nov. 25, although this is never certain until the moon has been sighted.
How the religious commandments of Ramadan translate into Ramadan at Yale presents a new set of challenges. For several years, the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, has had a prayer space in the basement of Bingham Hall, just around the corner from the Chaplain’s office. Throughout the year, this space is open for Muslims to make the five daily prayers and for the weekly Friday services, and during Ramadan the MSA arranges for meals to be provided for the predawn meal and the breaking of the fast. So if you’ve ever wondered why so many people are up at all hours in the basement of Bingham Hall (besides doing their laundry or studying in the freshman lounge), the answer is probably the five daily Muslim prayers, and if there’s food involved, it’s probably Ramadan.
Even with this community space, Ramadan at Yale has its hard times: walking from Swingspace or Davenport to Bingham at 4 a.m. for the predawn meal, through rain and occasionally in below-freezing temperatures, only to discover that your ID mysteriously no longer works on the Bingham door, is not necessarily a pleasant experience. For Muslim students who are fasting, the issue of meal plan rebates is always problematic; although Yale University Dining Services has been more than helpful and has been highly responsive to our needs, only so much can be done to compensate for each Muslim at Yale missing two meal credits per day. Strictly halal meat is yet to be served in Yale dining halls, making compensation for lunch or dinner by the dining halls even more difficult. Rebates for the missed meals, while a difficult proposition considering administrative logistics, simply makes sense as a response to student needs.
For many new Muslim students at Yale, Ramadan is the time when being away from home hits hardest. But Ramadan at Yale also allows for new opportunities: both the fasting and the breaking of the fast are experiences that allow students to develop a closer connection to other faiths, organizations and members of the Yale community. In the coming few weeks, the MSA hopes to share some of its events with other groups around campus, especially with the Fast-a-thon campaign and the Yale-wide Ramadan dinner scheduled to take place at The Colony on Nov. 13, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
At a pre-Ramadan event we held last Saturday, many Muslims said that in some sense, they feel more conscious of Ramadan here than in their homes, because while at home Islam can be a nationwide experience, for the Muslims at Yale Ramadan is the best chance we have to function as a Muslim community. Hopefully we can build on these opportunities together with the Yale community to raise awareness of Ramadan and its message. Ramadan mubarak!
Yusuf Samara is a junior in Davenport College. He is the president of the Muslim Student Association at Yale