RamadanRamadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is one of the most sacred times for Muslims. During this month, Muslims observe a strict daily fast from dawn until sunset. They are not allowed to eat or drink, not even water, during these daylight hours. Fasting is a private act of worship engendering nearness to God, but it is also a form of spiritual discipline and a means to empathizing with those less fortunate. The fast is broken at sundown with a meal called iftar, often shared among family and friends. Many will gather after nightfall in the mosque for special communal prayers called tarawih.
During Ramadan many Muslims go to the mosque and spend several hours praying. In addition to the five daily prayers that are part of the core of Islam, Muslims recite a special prayer called the Tarawih prayer (night prayer).
On the evening of the 27th day of the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a special night called Layat al-Qadr sometimes referred to as the Night of Power. It is believed that on this night Muhammad first received the Holy Qur'an.
At the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, a feast that celebrates the breaking of the fast takes place. Gifts are exchanged and friends and families gather for festive meals. Special gifts are also given to the poor.
Notes from the Brandeis' Muslim Chaplain on details about Ramadan, and student accomodations:
How do Muslims Observe Fasts and Prayers in Ramadan?
Fasting generally entails abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations from before the first light of dawn until the setting of the sun. Muslims are required to fast on each of the 29 to 30 days of Ramadan. If unable to fast, charity or fasting days outside Ramadan may suffice. A pre-dawn meal is common and considered to be a highly meritorious practice. Breaking fast at sundown is often done with dates and milk, followed by a fuller meal after the evening prayers. In addition to the five daily prayers, a very important optional practice is to gather for additional communal prayers after the night prayer each night of the month. This prayer is called Tarawih.
Diversity of practice:
As mentioned above, the start and end of Ramadan may be a matter of difference of opinion, and some may start and/or end on dates different from other students, staff, or faculty. The daily start and end of fasting may also differ according to interpretive schools, so it is not uncommon for one group of Muslims on a college campus to break fast immediately after sundown and others to delay for 10 or more minutes. Some may be comfortable speaking about whether or not they are fasting, but since the reasons for not fasting can be very personal and private, it is generally better not to ask if one is fasting.
While dates and milk have a religious root as fast-breaking foods, there is tremendous cultural diversity in preferred Ramadan cuisines. Some cultural traditions single out the pre-dawn meal for large and hearty meals, preferring light fast-breaking meals. Other cultural traditions may observe only a light pre-dawn meal while enjoying large fast-breaking meals. In some contemporary cultures, restaurants and cafes stay open all night and a culinary “night life” emerges. Culture also plays an important role in determining how Ramadan is observed beyond fasting and fast-breaking; some may see their primary observances to be fasting, but others may consider it a time for socializing, visiting family and friends, and increasing in acts of worship including prayer or reciting the Qur’an in its entirety over the course of the month.
Health and Fasting:
While it is not uncommon to cite general studies on the health benefits of different kinds of fasting, it is important to know that if there is a health emergency, Muslims can break their fast. Fasting is meant to be a spiritual challenge, but not a threat to one’s health. As for those adults who are ill, traveling, menstruating or experiencing postnatal bleeding, or excused from fasting due to a medical condition wherein fasting would cause harm, they are excused from fasting and either make up the fast later in the year or feed the needy as a charitable expiation.
Accommodations for students who are fasting:
Some Muslims do not change their daily routines due to fasting, and it is not uncommon for athletes and others to maintain fitness routines while fasting. Others, however, may find the physical and mental demands of fasting and daily prayers to be extremely challenging both mentally and physically. Each individual will differ in their ability to maintain their normal routines and there can be a significant range in ability and requested accommodation.
The last ten nights of Ramadan are especially important and many Muslims will increase in their nightly prayers and devotion.
Below are some possible requests for accommodations that students in particular may request:
Commonly requested accommodations may include rescheduling exams, presentations, or assignment deadlines for times of day where mental clarity is not impeded by fasting. For some this might be early in the morning, for others, this might be well after sundown prayers, fast breaking, and ample time to digest. For those in classes at the time of sundown, some may request a significant break for ritual washing before prayer, breaking fast, and praying the evening prayer. Others may merely drink some water and eat a snack during class, waiting until after class for a fuller meal and the evening prayer. Not all Muslims will observe the prayer and the fast, and it is not uncommon for some to fast but not pray.
Each Muslim will experience Ramadan differently and there will often be a significant range of engagement with fasting, prayer, and communal gathering. The challenges of fasting and worship may vary from person to person. As we all aim to help our students, staff, faculty, and broader community to perform at their best while answering the call of their religious commitments, we are fortunate to have many options available to us that should ensure that no one will be prevented from their academic or professional obligations due to their religious beliefs and practices. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can be of any assistance in my capacity as Muslim Chaplain or faculty colleague.
Below, please find some student perspectives on Ramadan:
"Ramadan is the time of year I look forward to the most as it is a time for me to journey inwards. Ramadan allows us to connect with our inner-selves as a collective, and reflect upon the progress we have made towards becoming better people and the work that still needs to be done moving forward. While not eating or drinking is only a part of the Ramadan experience, it is most certainly not the whole. This month of reflection and sacrifice compels us to think of those who do not have regular access to food and water all year round, it calls upon us to consider our shortcomings in our relationships with others, and it enables us to strengthen our bond with the rest of humanity for the sake of Allah. Some challenges I have faced over the past few years are the following: I have had finals consistently during Ramadan for the past 4 years, which takes away from the time and attention needed for the kind of reflection described above. I have also found it extremely difficult to perform well academically during the daytime while doing better in the night time. I am sure that many of my peers can relate to this. I hope that this Ramadan allows us to come together in unity and reflect upon the things that matter for a richer life experience through our connectedness with the Almighty." - Hamza '23
“Ramadan has both religious and personal significance for me, as I get to meditate and connect with my family thousands of miles away from home. Fasting is an invigorating spiritual experience for me, but my biggest challenge has always been getting through the same workday without caffeine and a disjointed sleep schedule. Though I eventually get used to it, I feel it's a conversation I need to have every year with my colleagues as to why my schedule has shifted or my priorities may differ slightly.” --Rabia, PhD Candidate
“Ramadan is the time where I spend the most time with family and working on being a better Muslim. During Ramadan, my family and I eat together every evening and spend quality time together which is something we are not privileged to do on a daily basis. It saddens me that I won’t be home for the entire month of Ramadan, even thinking about it gets me teary eyed. Although it’s the 2nd semester since Brandeis went online/hybrid, it is still difficult adjusting to the new norm. I can imagine that me and my peers will have a couple of final exams/essays to complete, fill out job-applications and work part time jobs on campus. This is a glimpse of what my academic year looks like, however, as a graduating student, there is a huge emphasis on all these activities as this impacts my livelihood after May 2021. Fasting affects how I function throughout the day and how I interact with my peers. I devote a lot of my time to better my mental health, my connection with Allah and develop healthy habits that will stick with me even after Ramadan. I will be disheartened on the nights that I have to compromise following my faith in a way that I am comfortable due to school. Although my name is anonymous, I promise I am a good student who always shoots above and beyond, I will uphold my responsibilities as a student. I would greatly appreciate if my professors and peers understand the feeling of disconnect that comes with not being around family for the warm delicious iftars (fast-breaking meals) made with care and love, the hugs of my grandmother, the laughter with my cousins and the sense of belonging that comes with being a Muslim when praying with my family.” --Student, ‘21