BY TUMA HAJI
Back home in Ghana, Braimah Tayo Lawal, Jr. remembers the joy of celebrating Ramadan surrounded by his family. He recalls waking up before sunrise to pray the first of the five Islamic mandatory prayers, Salat al Fajr. Afterwards, Lawal’s family would then prepare to eat the morning breakfast, suhoor. It is the last meal allowed during Ramadan (sawm) before the sun rises. At sundown, Lawal’s family gathers again to break the fast during Iftar.
Across the globe, millions of Muslims celebrate Ramadan just like Lawal’s family. Ramadan is regarded as a holy month by Muslims to celebrate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad by fasting. It is also a time for spiritual cleansing. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and starts on a different day each year because the Islamic calendar operates on the lunar cycle.
Ramadan 2018 begins on May 15 and ends June 14. For many Muslims, Ramadan is a unifying experience with both the family and the larger Islamic community.
“I’m not the purest Muslim,” Lawal said. “I’m not perfect or practicing but I love Ramadan. I feel pure, I feel good and I feel closer to my God.”
As an international student studying away from home, Lawal said he’s familiar with the loneliness of celebrating Ramadan without the comforts of family.
“I (feel like) there is a loss to the sense of unity,” he said.
Lawal faces the additional stress of his upcoming graduation during Ramadan. Large celebrations such as graduations are usually commemorated with food. Lawal faces the dilemma of forsaking the opportunities to go out to eat with friends to avoid temptation.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Lawal said. “I don’t know if I’ll fast the day of graduation. It’ll only be one day.”
First-year Sabrina Uddin agrees with Lawal’s views. Although her parents live in Illinois, she, along with other Muslim students, will be on campus for the first part of Ramadan.
“It’s a really special time to spend a lot of time with all our other relatives, and it’s sort of a calming, spiritual experience,” Uddin said. “We never feel like we have to do anything super crazy or festive. It’s just a time for you to reflect on yourself and reflect on the people you really care about and who you are and what your purpose is.”
For many Muslims, Iftar is the light at the end of the tunnel each night during Ramadan. Families and communities gather together to break the fast, usually with a large feast.
The struggle of breaking the fast without family is an issue many students face while being away from home. While some students may go to community Iftars at their local mosques, others celebrate either by themselves or with friends.
Uddin expressed nervousness over celebrating her first Ramadan away from home, far from the comfort of her family.
“It’ll be different because I’ve never done it before, but I feel like I know some people on campus who are going to be celebrating it alone, too,” Uddin said. “We’ll all probably kind of get together. It’ll make it a little easier.”