‘There's a lot of joy and happiness’: Muslim students on navigating Ramadan

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and a holy month for Muslims around the world, comes to an end this week on April 9.

During this time, Muslims often fast from sunrise to sunset, which can include refraining from drinking, eating, smoking and sexual activities. Worship, such as prayer and reading the Quran, as well as giving to charities, are also encouraged during the holy month.

UBC students spoke to The Ubyssey on how they balance Ramadan and their education.

For Sarah Lennon, a second-year sociology major, this year was considerably better than her first year in residence.

“I didn't really have a good eating experience last year … Since I can cook my own food, it's been much better this year, I would say, in terms of eating and getting enough food in compared to last year,” she said.

However, Lennon said fasting can be difficult while also trying to balance it with schoolwork.

“Definitely the first week, I did very minor schoolwork. And I felt like I couldn't really focus too much, or because you can get brain fog in the middle of the day,” said Lennon. “It really takes a good week to get used to it.”

Maya El-Hawary, a fifth-year majoring in English literature, echoed the experience of brain fog from fasting.

“The big thing that I think everyone will tell you is that your brain shuts down at 5 p.m. It’s really difficult.”

Raihan Hassen, a dietician and a recent graduate from UBC’s MSc in Human Nutrition, said there are foods that students can eat to minimize brain fog and fatigue throughout the day.

“From a nutrition perspective, in order to maintain your energy throughout the day, it’s wise to have a balanced meal in the morning, so a balance between fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, otherwise known as ‘healthy fats.’ Those will sustain you for a long time,” said Hassen.

She added that picking foods with high fibre also helps keep people full for longer, like whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables.

“What we’re trying to do is eat foods that will release energy slowly throughout the day so we can sustain our energy,” she said.

Some students also spoke about struggling to find enough prayer spaces on campus. The UBC website states that there are “multifaith prayer rooms” located in four buildings: the Wesbrook Building, the Swing Space building, Marine Drive Residence and the Nest. However, the Wesbrook prayer room is currently closed due to flooding, further limiting students’ options.

Jana Abdelhameed, who is currently the VP sisters of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), said losing the Wesbrook prayer space “has been a bit hard on the community,” and that UBC can do more for Muslim students on campus.

“The conversation is always that UBC does need to work a bit more on accommodations for Muslims, especially when it comes to Ramadan ... So far there is some progress but we always look for more definitely,” she said.

However, according to Lennon, who is involved in the student groups Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the Black Muslim Collective, not all Muslim students feel comfortable going to the prayer spaces on campus.

“There hasn't been much agreement between Muslim groups on campus in terms of values and contemporary issues … a lot of people have specific views of the leaders of the community and so other Muslims don't really feel comfortable going to these prayer spaces.”

El-Hawary also commented on the exclusion that some Muslim students feel at UBC.

“I feel like the experience of Ramadan that's created on campus, both by the institution but also by the Muslim groups on campus, are quite exclusionary to many Muslims who might not be your cookie cutter, perfectly practicing Muslim,” she said.

“I feel like there's definitely not enough inclusion of Queer Muslims, which I know for a fact exist and a lot of them are my friends on campus.”

But, overall, students emphasized the importance of community during Ramadan. Lennon said “there's always an iftar you can go to every day.” The UBC Events website, for example, lists multiple events that have been held by different student organizations throughout this month.

“I always describe Ramadan as blissful, there's a lot of joy and happiness," said Lennon.

"It's almost like everything has stopped for a bit, and even though we already have other responsibilities, our faith is the priority for this month.”