Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, will overlap with the academic school year for the next 10 years. The on-campus experience for current and incoming Muslim students will be distinctly unique from that of their older peers. Ramadan, which lasts for 30 days, involves fasting from dusk until dawn. This month is not only characterized by the physical restraint from food and water but also the values of generosity and forgiveness. The spiritual purpose of Ramadan is to elevate and promote our best qualities and to think critically about materialistic consumption since even the most basic needs are regulated. During this month, we are encouraged to offer charity, withhold anger, and practice patience.
It is a difficult but beautiful month that I usually look forward to throughout the year. As I’ve referred to in an earlier piece, last Ramadan began at the same time as finals. In the 10 days I spent on campus, my schedule was filled with community-based activities and programs. I would meet my friends in Hewitt Hall at 3 a.m. to eat the meal that prepared us for a day of fasting ahead. Later, when the clock would strike 8 and the sun would set, nearly 100 students would funnel into Earl Hall for the daily free iftars (the meal that breaks the fast).
By midnight, there would still be a group of students lingering behind to socialize and pray together. During those off-hours, when other Columbians were sleeping or studying, we were together, fighting through caffeine withdrawal, praying, eating, and laughing. (We would not have been able to access these buildings during off-hours if not for the tireless work to institutionalize these accommodations.)
The community fostered during Ramadan 2019 was juxtaposed with the often difficult and cutthroat environment of Columbia. It was a healthy period for me because it is important to have a stable, predetermined time when people come together to socialize, share love, and exercise generosity. The shared experience among college students going through Ramadan together created a special bond within the community, and this bond will evolve and grow throughout more Ramadans together.
This Ramadan, now only a few days ahead of us, will be a different experience for Muslims worldwide as we are forced to stay at home. For the first time in years, mosques will be closed and communal gatherings will be suspended. Even the holiest locations—Mecca and Medina—are closed to visitors. Many groups have officially transitioned to virtual programming to compensate for the loss of real-time activities. Columbia Muslim Life has followed suit; every day during this upcoming month, we are planning to host virtual iftars, Quran recitations, and group hangouts.
The absence of the sound of the call to prayer will be felt deeply this month. It feels paradoxical to observe a month centered around community building and sharing without the community and the ability to physically share food. But the coronavirus will not stop us. The Columbia Muslim community members in every corner of the world will tune in at their respective hours to celebrate together, every day.
When I began my senior year in September, I mapped out a mental vision of how my last year would unfold. My heart would fill up when I anticipated the conclusion of my time here. I would also be celebrating two special occasions with a community I’d come to love: graduation and holy month.
But as I am expected to be patient while fasting, I should hope to use some of this patience during this difficult time of social isolation. Ramadan has always been a time of coming together, but now we must come together, apart. Just as we await the sunset to break our fasts, we await the sunset of this pandemic to quench our thirst for camaraderie. But we will get there, together.
My mother reminds me often that the entire earth is a space for prayer. I suppose Zoom can serve that purpose now, too.
Rasha Biary is a senior at Barnard College, majoring in economics and minoring in chemistry. She is heartbroken that she cannot spend one last Ramadan with her college friends, but she is excited about the virtual programming. Please consider visiting this article that details different ways you can help during this pandemic. Shot of Espresso runs alternate Tuesdays.
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