Linbo Fan / Sun File Photo

Annabel Taylor Hall, the University's hub for religious activities, would have normally hosted daily group dinners for students to break their fasts. Now, students are having the dinners at home.

April 21, 2020

Distanced From Community, Muslim Students Confront New Ramadan Rituals

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If Atif Akhter ’22 were on campus right now, he would be preparing to spend each night of the upcoming month gathering for community dinners at Anabel Taylor Hall with fellow members of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association.

Now that he is at home with his family, Akhter will be celebrating Ramadan a little differently this year.

The holiday, which starts the evening of April 23, is ordinarily a very social time of the year — but people will have to celebrate apart from their communities this year.

Akhter said he was “really looking forward to” MECA’s community dinners, which are generally held every night for students to break their fast.

Another aspect of Ramadan that Akhter will not be able to participate in this year is the nightly prayer, when the community gathers at the mosque. Due to social distancing guidelines, the nightly, communal prayers will not take place this year.

“That is a big part of Ramadan, at least for me,” he said.

Even if the pandemic does settle down by the end of Ramadan, Akhter is not convinced that the final prayer — known as Eid al-Fitr, held this year on May 23 and 24 — will take place in person because people will be “too scared.”

“Ramadan is definitely a community activity,” Akhter said. “It is a lot of socializing, which is not going to happen anymore.”

Last year, Akhter and a friend used to stay up after prayer and study together throughout the night. Now, he can only connect with his friends through Zoom.

“It’s good to see your friends’ faces on Zoom,” Akhter said. “I guess it’s better than nothing.”

He also said that the day-long fast is often made easier when taking part alongside friends and community members. Being cooped up inside his home creates an added challenge.

“It is a mentally challenging time,” he continued. “Ramadan is definitely a time of discipline.”

MECA has been working to provide continued community for its students, especially moving into the holiday, according to Chaplain Yasin Ahmed.

Friday services have been moved to the group’s Facebook page, which has increased attendance by making them more accessible. Its weekly programs have also shifted from study circles to online hangouts in an effort to check-in with students to see how they are coping with the current circumstances.

“I’ve noticed that what people need right now is a space to have community,” Ahmed said.

In past Ramadans, somewhere between 75 and 100 people gathered each night on campus to break the fast, Ahmed said.

“It is the bedrock of the community,” Ahmed said of the holiday. “Specifically, on campus, it is the time that we get to see each other most often, because we break our fast together every night.”

MECA is still trying to determine how many Muslim students are on campus, and how to provide the community dinner for them as a virtual experience.

Although it will not be practiced as usual this year, Akhter is certain that aspects of the holiday can be replicated in a virtual sense.

“Ramadan has a big community aspect, but just because we are not close to each other doesn’t mean that there is no community,” Akhter said. “We are united by our faith.”

Akhter is similarly confident in individuals’ ability to adapt to the changing times and turn it into a meaningful experience.

“It is a totally different type of challenge this year,” Akhter said. “But it is a challenge we can overcome.”