Colby students arecelebrating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which began April 12 and will end May 12. The Colby Muslim Society (CMS) hosts sunset and evening prayers, iftar (the sun- set meal to break the fast), and the post-iftar prayer every day.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the Muslim year and is said to be the month when God revealed the first verses of the Quran to Muhammed. Muslims observing Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset.
Taha Akhtar `22 is president of CMS and spoke with The Colby Echo about celebrating Ramadan at the College.
Akhtar said that students celebrating Ramadan gather in the Rose Chapel for a halal meal prepared by dining services and that they take food to their dorms for the meal they eat at the opening of the fast early in the morning before sunrise.
Akhtar said that, at home, the holiday is “more family-based …every time we break fast and every time we close the fast it’s always with family in the early morning at sunrise and at night at sunset.”
Akhtar’s family eats traditional South Asian dishes like chickpeas and samosas.
Furqan Qureshi `24 said that his first Ramadan away from home is quite different from what he’s used to. For example, he’s used to the food his family prepares. “I’m really used to what my family made back at home, like we always made traditional Pakistani food. Over here I haven’t really had much of that. It’s dining hall food and it’s alright but it’s different. So it’s my first time not really having that kind of food experience,” Qureshi said.
Reflecting on last Ramadan, Qureshi said that it was easier than this year because his classes were online so he could sleep for longer during the day.
“I’d be fasting for a little less time awake, so it would be a lot easier, but now these days I have to go to sleep and then wake up in the middle of the night and then go to sleep again,” he said.
Akhtar and Qureshi noted that in college, celebrating Ramadan is centered around friends.
“At Colby, because it’s a small college, a lot of us get to know each other better so most of the time we’re just having fun” Akhtar said, “so it’s a different vibe. Since this year we have a little bit more members, it’s felt more like a family and has been pretty fun.”
“I really like the community here because we’re all doing it together so it’s really nice to have that. I’ve been enjoying it. It’s a little challenging at times with certain aspects but I like it,” Qureshi said.
Akhtar also mentioned that at home, he usually goes to a mosque to do the prayers with hundreds of people but at school it’s usually 15-20 people praying.
He shared that students celebrating Ramadan usually only do the last three prayers of the day together because of scheduling conflicts.
“It’s good to pray together whenever we can, but usually our schedules don’t really match up,” he said.
Akhtar explained that it is a religious custom to break the fast at iftar with a medjool date.
He said that dining services haven’t provided the correct kind of date, but CMS’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Biology Tariq Ahmad, was able to get some.
Akhtar said that he doesn’t know of Colby students who go home for Ramadan, but that it is definitely a time when students miss their families.
The Muslim holidays are set on a lunar calendar that is slightly shorter than the Gregorian calendar, meaning that holidays rotate throughout the 365-day year. Akhtar said that the students celebrating Ramadan now grew up with the month landing later in the year, during the summer, so they have been adjusting to it being during finals or the school year.
“Two years ago it was right at the end of the year during finals, so that was kind of hard. But last year we got kind of lucky because it was when we got sent home,” he said.
Qureshi explained how it feels to fast for a month.
“It changes throughout the entire month how you feel towards it,” he said. “During the beginning I’m more tired and I had a few moments when I forgot something, I had memory issues almost … but after a while you get kind of used to it and it gets better.”
Akhtar said that it takes three or four days to get used to the fast and that the main challenge of Ramadan is staying focused.
“When your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs, your brain doesn’t work that well,” he said. “So especially at 5-6 p.m., once it’s the peak hours before sunset, it’s usually the hardest to do homework. Or especially during finals if you have a final during that time it’s pretty tough, so you usually have to ask … to move it or take it an hour later.”
Akhtar said that professors are pretty good at accommodating student needs during Ramadan but that students are very busy during the month.
Qureshi shared that he had an exam during iftar so he rescheduled it with his professor.
“When you’re at Colby you’re just thinking about doing your work and then that pretty much takes up most of your time … and some people are also on sports teams and they have practices, and that’s probably hard to manage time, especially if it’s during iftar time,” he said.
Akhtar also noted that Maine is a good location for the fast because it is not too hot. He explained that in hot countries, thirst is a larger problem than hunger during fasting hours.
Akhtar said that students have received support from Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kate Smanik in setting up their Ramadan events.
CMS is working on its plans for Eid, the meal that concludes Ramadan. The club usually does the morning prayer and then a meal.
“[It] is weird after a month of fasting but it’s time to spend time with friends and family,” Akhtar noted. They hope to invite the wider campus community to the celebration.
Throughout the year, Colby dining provides halal options for stu- dents, marking halal foods on menus along with other food restrictions like vegetarian and gluten free.
Akhtar said that they do a good job, especially at Dana, but Qureshi shared that chicken is not always marked as halal even if it may be. “At home I eat a lot more meat and here I’m not eating that much,” he said. But, during Ramadan he is able to eat more meat because he knows all the iftar meals are halal.
Akhtar said that this year has been fun because there are many more people than in the past. He said that two years ago there were five or six students observing Ramadan but now, there are around 15 or 20.
Akhtar said that after iftar and prayers they all relax together. Akhtar also noted that he was worried that COVID-19 restrictions imposed right before Ramadan would not be lifted in time for CMS to have its iftar meals and prayers together. But, luckily they were lifted in time.
~ Sonia Lachter ‘22