The holy month of Ramadan has fallen in Loyola’s academic year for the first time in more than a decade, and Muslim students have relied on each other to balance their spiritual and scholarly lives.
For Muslims, the holy month consists of mandatory prayers and fasting. Muslim Chaplain Omer M. Mozaffar described Ramadan as a “convergence of faith, service, fitness, transformation and community” that students are now celebrating together.
“It’s simultaneously a very personal event and then on the other hand it’s a very lively, communal event,” Mozaffar said. “That whole combination makes for a wonderful time of the year.”
The time of Ramadan shifts because it corresponds with the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, it began on April 2 and will end during Loyola’s finals week on May 2.
Besides the last two hybrid spring semesters, this is the first time all Muslim students have experienced Ramadan on Loyola’s campus since 2011. Eleven years ago, the month of spirituality ended Aug. 30 and the semester began the day before, according to the university’s academic calendar.
Ramadan is heavily structured around self-discipline, as observers fast from sunrise to sunset. Junior Nabhan Rafiq said being on the same schedule as everyone makes his intense sleep schedules and extensive prayers much easier.
“I think one of the cool things about Ramadan is that it’s very communal oriented,” Rafiq said. “We all eat at the same time, a lot of us pray at night at the same time. Typically you do that with family, but since we’re on campus, it’s like we’re doing it with our family on campus.”
This year at Loyola is 20-year-old Mashal Shoaib’s first time living away from home. Usually, her mother would wake her up before dawn and provide home-cooked meals.
Shoaib usually looks forward to Rooh Afza, a traditional rose flavored drink she mixes with chia seeds and water, despite many choosing milk. The psychology major said anyone who uses the lactic alternative is “a psychopath.”
To accommodate the campus community, the Muslim Students’ Association organizes nightly prayers and two daily meals for students to break fast. Mozaffar said the community came “in droves” to help provide for the students. In his office, the chaplain gestured to stacks of paper plates and crates of dates donated to the school from families and students.
As the kind-hearted milk versus water debate raged on, the students made it clear that their spiritual growth is much more important than how they fill their stomachs. Following their group meal, the students gather for their nightly prayer.
This year, the students are led by junior Nasar Qureshi.
As the prayer leader, he’s responsible for memorizing and reciting approximately 20 pages of the Quran per night. Qureshi, double majoring in biology and cognitive neuroscience, said he dedicates one to two hours per day reviewing the readings.
“It’s not like I get to have any accommodations or arrangements made with the school,” Qureshi said. “I still have to maintain my obligations of leading prayer, while making sure I’m keeping up with all my school and stuff like that.”
Despite this difficulty, Qureshi said it’s important to take full advantage of the month of spirituality. Because the MSA organizes these events, he’s able to meet and interact with people he may not meet otherwise.
“Even just the fact that the entire community is here and we’re all breaking fast together, it just really shows you how Islam really stresses brotherhood and just the beauty behind that,” Qureshi said.
Like Qureshi, students and faculty have to work to find a balance between their spiritual and academic life. Mozaffar said he typically doesn’t get home to his family until midnight and has to leave by 6 a.m. to teach his THEO 295 class three days a week.
Still, the Muslim community at Loyola is cherishing the time they get to spend with their brothers and sisters in faith.
“The purpose of this month is almost like a spiritual reset,” Rafiq said. “To do that alongside everyone in a very communal way, like we all kind of push each other to keep moving forward. I think that’s what’s super special.”
Aqib Rasheed contributed to this report.