You may think a 21 hour fast would make most students run into hibernation, but Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, a month of sacrifice, daylight hours of fasting and long nights stood in prayer, is drawing to a close for 2014, and students have embraced this month to get involved in local community projects and student-led initiatives alongside their studies. Ramadan, although an exciting and well-anticipated time of year for Muslims, is not simply a religious festival, it's a duty driven by strong faith and determination to follow an essential command which we believe was also given to Moses. Abraham, Jesus and other prophets preceding Muhammad (Peace be upon them all). Muslim students and Islamic societies on campuses across the UK, out of love for the teaching of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), that 'whoever allows their neighbour to go hungry, is not from amongst us', are embracing these commands in a heartwarming display of unity and cohesion to ensure that nobody is left hungry in this month - hungry for neither food, company or spirituality.
A project which truly exemplifies the Ramadan spirit is a student led project at SOAS, the Ramadan Tent, which is set up annually within a stone's throw of some of London's main Universities, aiming to break boundaries and bring together students from an array of backgrounds to share in the Ramadan experience. Rudolph, an international student from Germany, although not a Muslim, comments on his experience at the tent, "It is a great example of community spirit, people coming together and making friends regardless of their background - and on top of everything, the food is really nice! ... I remember being invited to Iftar by a Muslim family in Germany when I was younger, and was humbled by the culture of sharing. This is absolutely something I'd love to see more of." Omar Salha, the main organiser, also comments that "we have an incredible team of student committee members and volunteers who are passionate and dedicated to helping the project succeed, and serving their fellow students. For all the students involved, it has given them not only a close knit community to celebrate Ramadan with, but also a platform to express their faith and culture with the broader community."
The Ramadan tent is an exemplary student led project, and at FOSIS we work with Muslim students at islamic Societies on over 115 campuses across the UK & Ireland and see excellent initiatives spanning the country, from Ramadan inspired photography competitions, to much needed services in collaboration with local mosques. So many other students from around the country have found their Ramadan experiences whilst at University enriched by their surroundings and, in true spirit of the Islamic faith, by support from fellow students and the local community.
Hafsah, an Engineering student from the University of Bristol noted how the Iftar (evening meals) organised by the Islamic Society had such a strong impact, "I was on a placement in Bristol so spent my Ramadan here. I was extremely thankful for the fact that there was iftars organised everyday near the University as I am sure it would have been a lot harder and lonely to spend Ramadan by myself. It was great to see students that we normally don't get to meet such as Postgraduate students and members of the local community. It was amazing to see the love that everyone had for each other and how quickly strong friendships formed in a space of few days."
Nadzirah, a Chemistry student at the University of Sheffield replaced the warmer climes of Malaysia with the distant, and slightly cooler, South Yorkshire, and found the longer fasts meant a different take on home customs, "Usually in Malaysia, most of the mosques do not just provide food for iftaar, but also for Moreh, like supper, after the night prayers which would be light food such as fruit. But in the UK, you can't even think of having an additional meal as you only have five hours between sunset and dawn!" She also found the support network from fellow students invaluable and comments on the unity that Ramadan brings, "I'm so grateful for having awesome housemates and friends, as we wake each other up for the pre-dawn meal so that nobody misses it, and we usually have a really simple meal compared to what we'd have back home in Malaysia - But why I love to be here in the UK for Ramadan is that I'm now more open-minded, tolerant and have so much respect for others."
Mariam, a Dental student from Cardiff ensures her fasting doesn't impact her performance, and finds support from peers and colleagues, "My colleagues and peers are very understanding and considerate when I fast which is a great source of support. I would describe fasting during university as challenging yet satisfying. As a dental student I see patients day in day out. Most people don't notice I'm fasting as my clinical abilities thankfully remain unaffected besides the odd yawn on a friday afternoon. However I do feel naturally exhausted after a day's work, and even more so as it's very difficult to get through the day without water in this lovely summer weather."
So as we enter the final few days of this month, and beyond, I encourage all of you to get involved with sharing whatever you have with your local community by getting involved with iftaar projects for the homeless, providing food to your neighbours, or just throwing open the doors of your home to share a meal with fellow students and friends. This is something we must continue throughout the academic year, by sharing experiences, knowledge and the things we sometimes forget to value, to ensure that campuses are places which nurture a generation who will go on to lead by loving for our neighbour what we love for ourselves.
A version cross-posted at: http://www.nus.org.uk/en/lifestyle/the-ramadan-student-experience/
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