Apr 12th, 2023, 09:00 AM

What Ramadan Means in the AUP Community

By Ayah Shayeb
Image credit: Mostafa AlKharouf
Exploring the significance of Ramadan to both students who participate and students who observe in the AUP community.

10 pairs of eyes track the horizon as the sun finally sets in the neighborhood park.

IFTAR TIME! ” one of them calls out as all the others cheer, dropping their bikes, rushing back to their homes for the hot meal they’ve been waiting for all day. 

Across the world, in a completely different city, a family is preparing to pray "Taraweeh" together. They are all lined up, but keep laughing as the youngest is distracted by the family kitten, which is a "sunnah" to have in Muslim communities.

The father smiles and thanks God for the blessing of having a family. 

Decorative, colored lights are hung outside homes and apartments. Streets are filled with vendors selling dates and "katayef". Homes are filled with laughter and prayer mats of all sizes. Mosques are filled with people from all places. Recipes are shared, family and friends gather. All around the world, from China to Morocco to Brazil, Ramadan has begun. 


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The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is the month of Ramadan, which is a significant time for Muslims everywhere. Fasting from sunrise until sunset, Muslims and those who participate in Ramadan, abstain from food, liquids and other wants. As the call for prayer sounds around sunset, the fast is broken by eating "Iftar". Muslims then awake during the early mornings to eat "Suhoor" in preparation of fasting for the next day.  

Yet, Ramadan means far more than simply not eating and drinking. It's a time for community, prayer and spiritual reflection. Muslims view Ramadan as a chance to deepen their relationship with Allah (God), to cleanse their souls and to be compassionate towards others. 

“I see Ramadan as a beautiful time of celebration, unity and health. It’s a time where the community can really feel united as everyone is sharing the same experience of fasting for a greater cause. Its importance lies in that—I think it’s very fulfilling to the human need to be a part of something greater than ourselves,”   says Hadija Hishola, a first year student at AUP.

Coming from a background of both Christianity and Islam, Hishola was raised in southern Chicago with a Nigerian father and Filipino mother. 

“On a spiritual level, I see the importance of Ramadan as a great time of cleansing. During this time, we can strengthen our sense of discipline. I also see that food takes up so much space in our minds, we sometimes take food passively, eating whatever, whenever. But during Ramadan, everything about food and time has to be more intentional and is more health focused, so this inspires rethinking what has been taking up importance in our lives and if we need to redirect ourselves in order to remain in alignment.” 

Hishola adds she has never felt pressured in participating as this is her, and only her, individual relationship with God. In fact, she’s only inspired to fast in Ramadan. 

Muslims are encouraged to donate to charities, participate in performing good deeds and be courteous and compassionate toward one another during this holy month. It's an ideal chance to reflect on Islam's core principles of empathy, generosity and selflessness. 

Ramadan is also a time for social gatherings with relatives and neighbors. Every evening, Muslims break their fast with an iftar meal, which is frequently enjoyed with friends and family. Another student, Omar Turk, who is a junior at AUP and grew up in Lebanon said that “Ramadan reminds me of back home because my aunts cook traditional meals.”

He added that “It’s a humbling experience. It reminds me more of what I have on a daily basis that I don't appreciate enough.” 

“Something so simple such as food and water never crosses my mind. Only when I fast for 30 days do I understand how precious these are," said Turk. "It’s especially humbling when there are people out there who go through this on a daily basis because they can't afford food.” 

Another AUP student, Charlotte Ofelia, who grew up in Norway and is now a full time student shared her thoughts on Ramadan from observing her Muslim friends. 

“Ramadan is important because it’s a holy month to focus on Allah.” 

While Ofelia is not a part of the Muslim community, she said that you should fast for “yourself, your body, your peace and happiness. Because it’s not just for Allah. Even for me, I want to fast for my Muslim friends as I feel I'm supporting them and doing it for my health.” 

Most importantly, Ramadan is used to spend time in prayer and reflection, especially after the sunsets. A specific prayer, "Taraweeh", happens every night for the next month to deepen one’s connection with themselves and with Allah (SWT).  The name of the prayer translates to “rest and relaxation”, its purpose is to bring blessings and peace upon those who pray it and increase good deeds for that individual. 



@mustafa Ramadan Mubarak From Around The World! #muslim #muslimtiktok #islam #ramadan #ramadanmubarak #eid #eidmubarak #arab #quran #fasting ♬ original sound - Mustafa Hussain



Nalla Diallo, a first-year student in AUP, was raised in DC. With a father from Senegal and Mauritania and an American mother, he said that “Ramadan for me has always been connected with two things: family and religion.” 

“Even before I was old enough for Ramadan to be a religious obligation, I still participated as an act of solidarity with my dad and used it to get  closer to him," Diallo said. "But after I was older and understood the more spiritual aspects I started using Ramadan especially the early mornings to think about philosophical and theological questions and deepen my understanding of religion and of life so its always been my favorite holiday and I often find myself feeling bittersweet on "Eid".” 

"Eid Al-Fitr", otherwise known as the festival of sweets, is celebrated by Muslims worldwide because it marks the end of the month of Ramadan.

Many may have misconceptions regarding Ramadan, such as the idea that all Muslims fast during this time, that fasting primarily concerns eating or that it is a kind of punishment or a way to lose weight. 

Adam Hawash, a Palestinian student at AUP, said that many of his peers simply thought Ramadan is done “only for weight loss”. 

Some also wrongly assume Ramadan as a festival or a day off rather than a time for spiritual observation and mindfulness. 

It's important to keep in mind that education and awareness can give greater understanding and respect for various cultures and customs while helping to debunk myths. Empathy, tolerance and unity are all encouraged in diversified societies through encouraging communication and education about many religions and cultures. 

So let's all pause for a moment, regardless of whether you yourself are Muslim, to consider the qualities of empathy, compassion and selflessness that are at the core of this unique month. And let’s remember that it's always great to ask questions to learn more about a topic you’re not familiar with. 

If you’re up for the challenge, wake up for "suhoor" tonight. If you’re in need of community, text that friend who is fasting and meet up for "Iftar". 

Blessed Ramadan to everyone, or as we say in Arabic, "Ramadan Mubarak".