March 21, 2023

How you can support students observing Ramadan

Advice from UCalgary’s Faith and Spirituality Centre and members of our local community
Supporting students observing Ramadan

We have almost reached the time of year which Muslims cherish the most; where they put up porch lights, decorate their houses, stock up their pantries, and mark their calendars all for the sake of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.

Around the world, the sighting of the crescent moon marks the start of Ramadan, and this year, it is said to begin on the evening of March 22. This means the first day of fasting for Muslims will be on March 23, and the last day will be on April 20, including the first half of UCalgary’s final exam period. 

For each day of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, meaning they do not eat or drink during those hours. It is a way for them to experience the suffering of, and develop greater empathy toward, those who do not have access to food or water.

Additionally, Ramadan is a time for them to strengthen their relationship with God, such as through giving charity, reciting the Qur'an, making dua (supplication), and practising good character. It is also an opportunity for them to spend quality time with family, friends, and the community, such as by attending communal iftars (the meal which breaks one’s fast) and Tarawih (prayers which take place at the masjid every night of Ramadan).

After the last day of Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr takes place, a holiday which Muslims celebrate by dressing up in fancy clothes, giving gifts, and eating lots of food.   

"Ramadan is so much more than just food and drink for me. It is the one time in the year where I truly get to work on myself as a person. A lot of people don't realize that Muslims fast with not just their stomachs, but also every aspect of their being. This means staying up late at night for Tarawih prayers, working on building and breaking habits, waking up for suhoor [the meal one eats to prepare themselves for a day of fasting], eating healthy, and taking care of the physical and spiritual self in appreciation for everything I have been given."
- Hessan Hanif, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) at the University of Calgary

Since this year’s Ramadan will take place during the final weeks of the academic term, as well as the first half UCalgary’s exam period (April 15 to 20). Muslim students may experience reduced energy levels and difficulty concentrating due to fasting and interrupted sleep schedules.

However, there are many ways in which our campus community can support students during this time, as the Faith and Spirituality Centre (FSC) recommends:  

  • If students attend class during sunset, let them know they are welcome to break their fast. 

  • If an exam is scheduled in the late afternoon or evening, be aware that fasting students may be a bit fatigued or distracted. If a student requests to eat during an exam or requires additional breaks, it would be helpful to support those requests.  

  • Understand that students may not know the exact dates of when Ramadan begins and ends far in advance, since they vary and need to be confirmed by religious authorities depending on the first sighting of the crescent moon.  

  • Encourage open communication if students require support.  

  • Refer students to the FSC for further support. For those who are international students, there is also a wide variety of supports available through International Student Services.   

“One of the hardest things [about being a student during Ramadan] can be the interruption to your regular sleep schedule, depending on the year [since Ramadan shifts 10 days earlier each year] and at what time you have to wake up [to eat and pray before sunrise],”
- Hooria, a peer helper at the FSC  

Advice from members of our local Muslim community  

The FSC and some of UCalgary’s Muslim students’ associations collected suggestions from Muslims around campus on how those who are observing Ramadan can be better supported. Some of the feedback they received is:  

  • Be aware that many Muslims are fasting during this time. Please ask before eating or drinking in front of others.  

  • Be aware that not all Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. There are many personal reasons why someone cannot fast. If you are asking someone whether they are fasting, listen to their response and avoid probing or judging if they say they are not fasting.  

  • Ask your fasting peer if you can drop off a nutritious meal that they can easily heat up for iftar (the meal which breaks one’s fast) or suhoor (the meal one eats to prepare themselves for a day of fasting).  

  • Avoid talking about weight loss to Muslim friends during Ramadan. It can be triggering to those with histories of disordered eating.  

  • Wish people a “Ramadan Mubarak,” which roughly translates to “Have a blessed Ramadan,” or say “Ramadan Kareem,” which roughly translates to “Have a generous Ramadan.”  

  • Ask your peers how their Ramadan is going. Reaching out is a good way to show support and respect.  

  • Educate yourself on Islam and advocate against Islamophobia whenever you can.  

  • Attend Anti-Islamophobia 101 workshop on Monday, April 3, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. or Monday, May 1, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. offered by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. 

  • Note that Ramadan is about far more than fasting. People of other faiths will often fast in solidarity with Muslims, but that can trivialize the holy Ramadan experience. It is more helpful to participate in the spiritual acts of humility, generosity, and knowledge seeking.  

  • Ask if there is a charity you could donate to or a cause they are passionate about if you want to partake in acts of generosity. Ramadan is also about volunteering and caring for those who are less fortunate. 

The international students who are observing it without in-person family support may experience additional strain. There are many online options for students to connect and celebrate, including a number of student-led organizations.

Students can connect through UCalgary Students’ Union associations, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA), the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and the Women's Ahmadiyya Muslim Students' Association (WAMSA), or through off-campus communities, like the Calgary chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada.  

Anyone in our UCalgary community can find more information and support by contacting the FSC.   

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