Exploring the meaning of Ramadan and several on-campus accommodations made for those partaking in it

Mt. A prides itself on having an ethnically diverse community full of people from different cultures and with different spiritual beliefs. Among the variety of religions celebrated on campus is Islam, which is a religion observed by Muslims, and of which an important component has been fast approaching: Ramadan.

“Ramadan is actually a whole month in the Muslim calendar,” explained Bilal Khan, the President of the Muslim Student Society. “It’s described as a holy month and it’s characterized mostly by the practice of fasting for a specified amount of time,” he added. “[Ramadan] consists of Muslims typically waking up before the sunrise, having a pre-dawn meal, prayer, […] and then throughout the period of the day, or when the sun is up, not eating or drinking until sunset,” Khan elaborated. He also explained that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is the month when the Islamic religious text, the Koran, was revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Ramadan is therefore also known as the month of revelation, which is why there is significance to fasting whenever it occurs, which changes year-to-year. Khan also pointed out that religious fasting can be seen in many other religions as a way to convey their spirituality, including during Yom Kippur in the Jewish culture.

This year, Ramadan started on the evening of March 22, and is slated to end on the evening of April 20. Although Ramadan is recognized by all Muslims, it is acknowledged that fasting could be harmful or dangerous to certain types of people.

“The process of fasting, it’s pretty physically taxing, so there are obviously exceptions for the elderly, for children, for pregnant women, and anyone who has a serious illness, [like] eating disorders,” said Khan. “It’s a practice that’s strictly self-enforced. […] [It’s an] act of worship that’s about self-discipline and challenging yourself to not eat or drink in the name of spirituality,” Khan described.

Several events and accommodations have already been planned for those participating in Ramadan, including arrangements made by Jennings Dining Hall to allow residence students to properly break their fasts at the beginning and end of each day. An email sent out on March 7 by Donna Hurley, the Director of Administrative Services, and Ellie Hummel, the Multi-Faith Chaplain and Spiritual Coordinator, explained that Muslim students in residence would be able to access meals at appropriate times during Ramadan. It also announced that Muslim students who were planning on fasting were required to contact Jennings by March 17 to take advantage of the arrangement. Khan elaborated on this accommodation:

“The evening meal, which happens after sunset, is within Jenning’s opening hours, so students can just come in and dine if they want to after the sun sets at night,” he reported. “If they don’t want to, Jennings is accommodating by creating packages, like take-out boxes, that have that day’s meal and specific items according to what the student wants to take out and eat as they please,” Khan added.

“The one that was more difficult to plan was the morning meal, which happens before the sun rises and is obviously outside of Jenning’s normal operational hours,” said Khan. “For that, they also plan to have takeout boxes that have typical items that are offered to students like hard-boiled eggs, baked goods, and whatever breakfast items they’re making that morning, but just have them separated out in a box for students to take home the night before so they can eat whenever they want,” he explained. “I’m pretty pleased with them for taking those steps and the fact that they were proactive. Even though there aren’t very many [Muslim] students on campus, they were willing to go to that extent to help accommodate as many students as possible,” Khan stated.

In addition to the accommodations being offered by Jennings Dining Hall, Khan added that other accommodations may be available to Muslim students partaking in Ramadan.

“There were some discussions about potential accommodations from the academic side of [things] because [Ramadan] will fall during exam week [this year],” he noted. “One example was if a student had a 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. exam writing time, [which] falls within the sunset, it would be difficult for [them] to break their fast during that time. So I think there was a bit of discussion about if that’s the case, professors or the university will be able to reschedule or accommodate those students to give them a more flexible time,” Khan remarked.

Mt. A students and staff participating in Ramadan are invited to attend weekly prayer sessions that will be held every Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the Multi-Faith Centre. Khan mentioned that this time is allotted specifically for Muslim individuals on campus to pray and reflect but added that there will be an educational Q&A session being held for the public on Wednesday, March 29, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Teams. This meeting is intended for those interested in learning more about Ramadan and will be led by Reverend Ellie Hummel, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Sharifa Patel, and Khan himself. To receive the Teams link, you can email [email protected].

As President of the Muslim Student Society, Khan is grateful that the university faculty and others that he has talked to have welcomed discussions about Ramadan and accommodation ideas for Muslims during this time. He explains that the goal of the Muslim Student Society is to “create a space for Muslim students to socialize and interact amongst each other and advocate as a collective for the community at large.” Although the COVID-19 pandemic lapsed previously established societies for Muslim students on campus, Khan hopes that this current iteration is here to stay. “The goal [of the Muslim Student Society] is to create a foundation and a sense of community among Muslim students that will hopefully be expanding as the population continues to grow, and be there for any new Muslim students who are coming to Mount Allison,” Khan concluded.

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