A student reads the Koran in the Muslim prayer space for men in Loras Hall on south campus in St. Paul.

Muslim Students Reflect on Ramadan Experiences During COVID-19

The difficulties of social distancing and stay-at-home orders have created unique challenges and differences from normal across the St. Thomas community. That’s especially true for Muslim community members during the holiday of Ramadan, which spans April 23-May 23 and represents the month of fasting, the third pillar of Islam.

As St. Thomas Muslim faith leader Sadaf Shier shared in a reflection on OneStThomas, fasting in Ramadan “is much more than a ritual of food and drink self-deprivation from pre-dawn to dusk. Rather, it is an intensive refresher course in spiritual and personal growth that every adult Muslim must attend to annually.”

In previous years, that growth comes with communal experiences and gatherings, something not possible amidst COVID-19. Adjustments such as online gathering and programming, and meal delivery and pickup for community members, have helped shape the individual experiences for St. Thomas’ Muslim community members, as each of them deals with a brand-new experience and challenges.

“Ramadan is very community-based, so much getting together with others and sharing ourselves. That has been not able to occur in person, but it’s for the best hopefully. We’re staying at home, not going out and doing our part,” undergraduate student Aziza Osman said. “Regardless of the situation we’re in, we can make the most out of it and take the positive aspects. In the news we hear a lot of scary things and sometimes taking some time off to reflect, work on one’s own spirituality, is a really precious thing to do. That can help improve your mental health, your physical health. We can take the time we have that’s now being presented to us and make the most of it doing all the various aspects that one would normally do with Ramadan. Sometimes people might not have had time, and we still have work and school, but it’s a different feeling. We’re trying to make the most of it and taking it day by day to see where that takes us.”

St. Thomas community members gathered May 4 for a virtual Iftar event and plans are in the works for an event to celebrate Eid, the holiday ending Ramadan. Student leaders in the Muslim Student Association said they hope to increase dialogue at events with non-Muslim community members, as well.

“A lot of people have become more aware over past few years of Ramadan and why we’re fasting. This year there’s more awareness and there’s an appreciation for that,” Osman said. “Everyone has a part of expanding their knowledge; I appreciate people are being more aware of different religious customs and being aware of it.”

Sophomores Pam Savira and Muhammad Talha Amir both described the challenges of fasting around those not going through the same thing, as well as their appreciation for faculty and St. Thomas community members expressing support for adjustments they need with academic work.

“A lot of faculty and people who aren’t Muslim understand those challenges,” Savira said.

Even amidst all the differences COVID-19 has forced, all three students and Shier spoke about the opportunities it has presented for Ramadan to create powerful experiences.

“Ramadan and its teaching about social justice, with it coming during COVID-19, which is a hardship and tragedy for so many, it’s also a chance for us to remind ourselves of our privileges, the things we take for granted,” Shier said. “The ability to eat and drink, the access to clean water, good food, ability to socialize with people, those can be things we always took for granted. … There are so many privileges we need to be aware of for ourselves. We can reflect and understand the responsibility we have to support the community, and to see these blessings more than ever before.”