Muslim students eagerly count down days until Ramadan

Alyse Riffer, Reporter

The ninth month of the Lunar calendar approaches quickly, which indicates the beginning of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan begins March 22 and ends April 21.

Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holy book of Islam, from the angel Gabriel during this month which holds significance in the celebration.

Islam has five pillars as a core of the religion. The pillars represent legs holding up a table, said senior psychology major Sarah Kassis. None of the pillars rank higher than another, as without even one of them the table falls.

The five pillars include Shahadah, the profession of faith, followed by Salah, prayer, Zakat, charity, Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca and Sawm, fasting.

Toqa Hassan, president of the Muslim Students’ Association and communication and information graduate student, said God orders followers of Islam to fast from worldly desires during Ramadan to strengthen their bonds with each other and with Him.

Hassan said prohibited behavior includes eating food and drinking water during the day, smoking, chewing tobacco and engaging in sexual intercourse. Some may choose to cut off forms of media as well such as watching television and listening to music.

“We have a saying during Ramadan if you get upset,” Hassan said. “You say ‘Oh no, I’m fasting’ … that constant reminder to be on your best behavior and be kind to people, that’s one of the main things.”

Fasting lasts from dawn to dusk until Iftar, when Muslims break fast.

“It’s kind of a test of our faith from God,” junior advertising major Anas Haque said.

Haque said that Muslims experience a boost in their faith, called Iman, during Ramadan. He said he looks forward to fasting and views it as a fun opportunity.

“It humbles me,” Haque said. “We’re humans, we have big egos … but when we fast it gives us a reminder that we’re just human. We rely on food, sleep and we get hungry, but then we look at God and he doesn’t get hungry so it connects us with him and it opens up our eyes on how great he is.”

Kassis said she feels a lot of gratitude during Ramadan.

“One of the main things is understanding how people don’t have food, don’t have money, don’t have clean water … you don’t get it until you’re starving,” Kassis said.

As one of the five pillars, charity plays a big role during Ramadan.

“My parents are from Syria, so we’re very aware of the situation there so we try to send back as much money as we can,” Kassis said.

Ramadan allows time for followers of Islam to focus on other habits as well including breaking bad habits and promoting good deeds and self-discipline.

Junior computer science major Mohammad Shahin said self-discipline and taqwa, the dedication of oneself and one’s actions toward Allah, signifies a big part during Ramadan.

“The entire goal of this month is to become self-disciplined … you stop [having bad habits] after that month, and the whole environment actually helps you to do so,” Shahin said.

While putting an end to bad habits, many followers of Islam may choose to make a goal or resolution as well.

“Ramadan is when you make new habits for the new year,” Hassan said. “It’s a time to reset and set new resolutions … it’s encouraged that you [go to the mosque], read the Quran and reflect.”

Junior biology major Rawad Al Zahabi said this upcoming Ramadan she hopes to read the entirety of the Quran, which contains 604 pages.

“I’ve never read the whole Quran in one month due to my school, my classes [and] my work,” Al Zahabi said. “I don’t have enough time and I hope this month that I will be able to do it.”

Haque said he also wants to set the same goal of reading the entire Quran.

During Ramadan, Muslims will prioritize displaying generosity and hospitality.

Shahin said that many people try to compete with one another in amounts of good deeds. He added that in the Middle East the workday shortens so people can volunteer at night and help one another.

Shahin also said practices of Islam in the U.S. comparatively differ from those in the Middle East.

“In the Middle East, most homes are practicing, therefore we don’t depend on the mosque to offer this environment because those environments are found in our homes,” Shahin said. “But here in the U.S., people actually come to the mosque to create this environment, so me getting involved was pretty nice.”

Al Zahabi previously lived in Dubai and said when people arrived late to Iftar, men passed out dates in the street as a polite offering and said “Ramadan Kareem,” which means “blessed” Ramadan.

Mosques hold nightly prayers during Ramadan. Though not required, many Muslims will try to attend prayer every night.

Haque said he enjoys seeing more people come to the mosque during the month of Ramadan and looks forward to the sense of togetherness.

“I’m focusing on having and sharing this experience with the people in Kent because it’s a new environment and it would be lovely to share with my friends,” Shahin said. “Many of my friends here, who actually aren’t Muslim, are coming with us to the mosques – they are visiting, seeing it, asking many questions, and so it’s really, really interesting.”

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan as a big feast, which occurs this year on April 21. Islam has two Eids. Eid al-Adha, considered the bigger Eid, occurs later in the year after Hajj.

Muslims spend Eid al-Fitr dressed in new clothing and eating plentiful foods with family and friends.

“Three places we go in one day, and you can’t just tell them ‘I’m not going to eat or drink anything’ because they prepared something for you, so, because you’re respectful, you have to tell them ‘Yes,’” Al Zahabi said. “My uncle, who understands the rule, grabs the whole family in his house … and he gives us coffee and Arabic sweets because he knows we are eating at other places.”

The Muslim Students’ Association plans to hold a “fast-a-thon” this Ramadan. MSA has yet to secure a date, but they will welcome anyone who wants to fast with them and provide a meal afterward.

A time for empathy, gratitude and sharing, Ramadan elicits excitement in the followers of Islam.

“We’re counting down the days,” Hassan said, “and it’s just really exciting.”

Alyse Riffer is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].