Muslim UBC Students on Ramadan: Reflection and connection on campus

"Ramadan can be a very different experience depending on where you live in the world, who you are surrounded with, and your own personal goals and values."

Every year, 1.8 billion Muslims around the world join each other to celebrate the onset of the most sacred month in the Muslim calendar: Ramadan. From May 6 to June 4 this year and most commonly known as the month of fasting, Ramadan also serves to help individuals along their personal spiritual journeys. By refraining from consuming any food or drinks (yes, even water) from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are able to redirect their focus from worldly pleasures to their inner soul and relationship with God.

However, Ramadan also has a large social component to it. Many people take advantage of the month to reconnect with family and friends over Iftaar (an evening meal at sunset), and every community tends to have particular traditions associated with this time of year. Ramadan can be a very different experience depending on where you live in the world, who you are surrounded with, and your own personal goals and values. Putting aside the main principles of Ramadan, many of us have specific goals we would like to achieve during the month, as well as individual ways of partaking in its festivities.

Thus, Ramadan often means something unique for each Muslim.

– Nour Youssef

Zubair Hirji

Nour Youssef

To me, Ramadan is like one huge reset button. Life can be so hectic and chaotic sometimes that it can be easy to forget the things that are most important to us. It can be easy for us to stray away from our values, our internal moral compass.

But Ramadan gives me some much needed time to sit with myself and reflect on how I spend my time, and the things I value most. By giving up things that usually seem so essential to us – food and water being the biggest – we are encouraged to replace the time we used to spend on these things with things that are more beneficial to our inner spiritual state. Things that make us better family members, better friends, better worshippers and better humans.

It allows me to take note of the different ways my ego plays a role in my life, and ways to manage it. It gives me a chance to start fresh, to continue the rest of the year feeling motivated and recharged.

Zubair Hirji

Hira Khan

For me, Ramadan is a time to get closer to God and also a time for families to come closer together. Being the holiest month in Islam, it is taken very seriously in my family and I have been fasting voluntarily since I was in Grade 2.

There was a change in atmosphere in the house when it was Ramadan, there was always this excitement surrounding it – especially because the best food is generally made during this time. But it brought our family closer together because we would all wake up before sunrise to eat (Suhoor), broke our fast together (Iftaar) and then went for the Ramadan specific prayers together to the mosque (Taraweeh). This was the only time my mom and I also went to the mosque.

Ramadan has never just been about not eating or drinking during the day, but it has also been about reflection, trying to make myself a better person and making a stronger spiritual connection with God.

Growing up in South Africa, Ramadan was also a time to do a lot of explanations, including telling classmates that they shouldn’t feel bad for me, that they can eat in front of me and that this was a blessing for me and not a punishment.

Practising Ramadan on campus has been challenging for me, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The days in Canada are generally long during this time of the year, with fasts ranging from 16-18 hours, which is something I am not used to because fasts in South Africa were 12-13 hours. Additionally, because I associate Ramadan with family, not having them around during this month is particularly difficult as I have always relied on their support. Although the reason to wake up for Suhoor is not family, having someone there definitely makes it easier, so waking up in the morning has been difficult. Having Iftaar also tends to leave me a little sad because there is this feeling of loneliness. Lastly, I have had a difficult time finding my own place within the Muslim community at UBC, adding to the challenges.

However, over the last two years, this has gotten better. I am grateful that the Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosts Iftaars a couple of days in the week. This has helped me meet other Muslims, helped with feelings of sadness and loneliness, and brought people together in a space where we can also pray. I try my best to seek out the different opportunities on campus relating to Ramadan, which are generally limited.

Zubair Hirji

Hira Rizwan

Ramadan is a really different and fun month back home so I have that kind of attachment to it. It’s also a great time to be both spiritual and religious, the latter of which I tend to not do justice for the rest of the year.
Back home, it’s amazing because literally our whole routines change based on Ramadan. In UBC, it’s very difficult actually to ‘celebrate’ per se. It doesn’t help that the facilities are not very accommodating. Residence cafeterias don’t account for our early Sehri times or late Iftari times, so there are no good food options and it can be difficult to maintain my typical strenuous routine of classes/work/homework and a semblance of a social life. It’s also difficult to complete five daily prayers when you’re all over campus with only one prayer room in Brock Hall. The good thing about commemorating Ramadan here is that it makes me really grateful for family and everything else back home. It’s also a great time to start a daily Iftaar thing with other Muslim friends where each person can make the evening meal in turns. So, in a way, it’s still a great community-building exercise.

Zubair Hirji

Khadijah Bhatti

Ramadan is extremely special to me because it’s a time where Muslims come together and work on bettering themselves. A common theme I see before the month of Ramadan is people asking for forgiveness if they have ever hurt anyone. People make up, forgive each other and try to be as nice as possible. When it comes time to break the fast, people often get together to eat. On usual days, my family and I don’t really eat together. However, during the month of Ramadan, we always sit together and eat. So, for me, Ramadan is a time where I can get closer to God while being the best version of myself and getting closer to the people around me. I practice fasting around my family and friends. With my family, I take these days as a time to bond and learn good manners from each other. At the UBC campus, a few religious organizations host community Iftars. I go to these in order to meet friends and break my fast with others. A lot of students at UBC don’t have a family to break their fasts with, so these community Iftars are all they have.

Zubair Hirji

Areej Fatima

Ramadan is the time of year that’s all about improvement. It’s a month where I devote myself to being the best Muslim and person possible.
For me, Ramadan signifies opportunities and new beginnings. It’s a time of the year for reflection and creating long-lasting change in oneself. Ramadan allows me to connect with my family, my community, myself and God. At least when I’m not thinking about all the food I’ll eat when I break my fast!
I celebrate Ramadan on campus in a quiet way. I come to campus, go to class and do everything any other student would do. The only difference is I’m fasting. Allowing myself to do it on campus lets me connect different aspects of my identity to one another. It’s nice to be able to practice my faith somewhere where I spend so much time (sadly this speaks to my lack of social life)!

Ramadan is an important time of the year and I count myself lucky to have the chance to improve.

Zubair Hirji

Asmaa Heban

As iconic as it is for the oft-repeated double-barrel of a question, “No food? Not even water?”, Ramadan is a time of cleansing (of all sorts) and deep spiritual reflection.

During this month, I feel a heightened connection to the ideal version of myself, to God, to the spiritual fabric of Islam and to other Muslims. There is something sublime about quiet, sincere striving during the day that culminates in communal worship – typically, breaking your fast with others and praying in congregation.

In many ways, Ramadan serves as a check-point. Who am I? Where am I in my personal growth? Where do I want to be? And maybe most importantly, how can I get there?

As a commuter student, I’m tempted to think that much of my engagement with Ramadan happens off campus. Which to a certain extent it does, but the reality is that practising/celebrating Ramadan is a 24-hour affair and so by exercising the restraint and self-awareness that Ramadan calls for while on campus, I am actively interacting with my faith in an intentional manner unique to this month.

Zubair Hirji

Rehmatullah Sheikh

Ramadan is like a necessary pause to the frenetic 11 months we usually spend. It’s an opportunity to reflect — on the spiritual end, you try to reinvigorate your link with God; on the secular side, you reevaluate some of your habits and behaviour and try to refine yourself. Prayer’s a part of daily life for Muslims, but Ramadan’s like the wild card month where your prayers take on more meaning. It’s also a chance for me to educate people about my faith and my life choices. Since eating’s such an integral part of one’s social life, you’re bound to end up answering questions about why you’re abstaining from food and water. Ramadan is also a personal reminder that I suck at sticking to commitments — I always try to cut down on social media this month and I fail.

We have Iftars organized by the MSA on campus. So I sometimes attend that to eat a (FREE!) meal and catch up with some friends. Later at night, there are special prayers organized at the family student housing on campus.

Zubair Hirji

Azlina Islam

While Ramadan is a time for me to personally engage with my faith, it is also a time for me to engage with the Muslim community wherever I am based at the time. As someone who has spent a lot of my life in communities where I am part of the minority, Ramadan is a time where I really get to find my place within the Muslim community and become more of an active member. The heightened sense of community is what really makes Ramadan special in comparison to the rest of the year; it’s not every day when I can just pass by another Muslim and instantly feel that strong connection.

Ramadan at UBC has been marked by the first term of summer courses, so I’m usually tied up with coursework. That being said, it’s always great to break my fast with familiar faces at the daily Iftars held by the MSA. I also attend the Taraweeh held at Acadia Park, and sometimes even end up at Eid prayers on campus.

An informal ritual, but so important regardless, it’s always great to bump into friends at the McDonald’s at the Village during the post-Taraweeh cravings run!

The Ubyssey would like to thank all of those who shared their stories with us. We would also like to thank Riya Talitha for coordinating this project.