Multiple groups at Utah State University are partnering to bring Ramadan initiatives and accommodations to the community this year — some for the first time, others for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar lasting from April 2 to May 2 this year — is a sacred time for many practicing Muslims. The holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset is a time for prayer, meditation, reflection and reconnection.
“I look forward to Ramadan because it's my opportunity to reconnect with my religion and my spiritual side, and get back to habits that I sometimes drift away from,” said Rana Abulbasal, a third-year Ph.D. candidate at USU. “For example, sometimes life gets busy and I don't get to pray the five times a day, on time, so Ramadan gives me the chance to refocus my life around the things that are most important for me, like my religion … It's also a very big family and community month for everyone to reconnect.”
But it can also be difficult, Abulbasal said, because of changes in sleep schedules combined with not ingesting any food or drink in the daytime — “not even water.”
And for college students it can be even more difficult, especially when Ramadan occurs during finals, like it will this year.
“It's also an important month in the academic year, with finals week and the end of the semester and graduation,” said Nelda Ault-Dyslin, coordinator at the Val R. Christensen Service Center, “so any student needs to be nutritionally taken care of during this time of year, regardless of if they're fasting or not.”
So Abulbasal approached Bonnie Glass-Coffin, the co-founder and director of USU’s Interfaith Initiative, to see what supports could be extended to students, many of whom — like Abulbasal — are living away from family.
“With the pandemic, there was barely anything that could be done, and I could only imagine how hard that must have been for (students new to USU),” she added. “For me, you know, I still have my little family. I have my husband and my two little kids, so some way, somehow, we make it work. But I kept thinking about the students who just came here with no family and barely got to know anyone. And with the pandemic, there was hardly any kind of community activities that could ease the loneliness they must have felt during Ramadan.”
The Interfaith Initiative and the Interfaith Student Association, USU Dining Services, the Val R. Christensen Service Center, Student Nutrition Access Center (SNAC), International Student Council, Aggies Think Care Act and others joined forces to address the need and raise awareness of how to accommodate the challenges this month brings.
“I'm glad that the Interfaith Initiative is involved, because one of our goals is to build bridges across religious differences on campus, and the best way of doing that is both by raising awareness and appreciative knowledge for other religious traditions, as well as building relationships,” Glass-Coffin said. “That's really the way we can have a culture shift so that we really are recognizing the values that we do share, even though our doctrines might be different, as a way of recognizing our common humanity and coming together for the common good.”
Numerous services are available to individuals to help them when observing Ramadan. Dining Services offers to-go boxes at the Marketplace and the Junction. Both of these dining halls are closed by the time Muslims break their fast with Iftar in the evening and don’t open until well past Suhoor, the morning meal before sunrise.
Additionally, the SNAC pantry and Service Center are offering freshly prepared, hot halal meals (the dietary standard prescribed in Islamic Law) on Monday and Wednesday evenings through SNAC from April 4 through April 27. Any student with an A-number can sign up to receive the meal through an event form in AggiePulse. These meals are funded in part through the President's Fund for Student Diversity Organizations.
“Everyone's welcome to come stop by when we are serving the meals and ask questions,” Ault-Dyslin said. “It’s not just the food, it’s a community building activity, because I feel like that's something that everyone is trying to work on, on rebuilding in-person community.”
There will also be a community Iftar in the Skyroom at the Taggart Student Center on April 14 at 8 p.m. where students, staff, faculty, family members and those living off-campus can gather to celebrate and eat.
“I've seen how USU has been very supportive of people from different backgrounds, and I thought everyone would be excited and happy to do something that will help our Muslim community at USU,” Abulbasal added. “I thought maybe we could give it a try, and the support has been amazing. I’m sure the Muslim students will really appreciate the support around Ramadan this year, and I hope that will make them feel seen, supported and cared for.”
Other considerations to be sensitive to in the coming month include not scheduling work meetings around meals; for example, offering lunch before or after the meeting so anyone fasting can be included, or scheduling important meetings or events earlier in the morning rather than later in the day. Students may also reach out to instructors if they want to request an accommodation during Ramadan.
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Assistant Director of Community-Engaged Learning
Val R. Christensen Service Center
TOPICSStudent Life 242stories Diversity & Inclusion 237stories Religion 37stories
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