Students Celebrate Ramadan

Muslim community gathers for nightly dinners in Ticknor Lounge

During the Muslim holy month Ramadan, observant students gather together for nightly dinners after fasting since dawn.

Since last Saturday, the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS) has been catering iftar, a breaking-of-the-fast, each night after sundown in Ticknor Lounge.

“At my house, Ramadan is a very family gathering-oriented occasion,” said Hala Iqbal ’07, HIS campus religious activities liaison. “A group of people that meets every day sort of becomes your family. The thing about Ramadan is you’re meeting the same people every day for 30 days on a continuous basis.”

About 90 to 100 students attend iftar each night, a number that continues to increase daily and yearly, according to HIS Vice President Rauda Tellawi ’08.

After the fast is broken and prayers are said, students “give a five-minute naseeha, which translates as ‘advice,’” said Zahra Kassam ’07. “It’s nice because you don’t usually get to hear students’ perspectives on spirituality.”

Students said Ramadan facilitates community building.

“It’s nice to see others who are fasting and breaking fast at the same time.” Tellawi said. “Ticknor is our home on campus. Our friends are there, our Muslim brothers and sisters are there. That’s what keeps drawing people in—the family feeling, the community feeling.”

Others said the holiday made the transition to college easier.

“I’m glad that Ramadan started two weeks after Harvard started. It sort of eases you in,” said Batool Z. Ali ’10.

Tellawi described Ramadan as a “time to work on personal character” when Muslims focus on charity and reading the Koran.

Because many students have fasted during the holy month for years, they said they had no problems observing the holiday with classes in full session.

“Ramadan makes you tired. You wake up early, you don’t eat, you don’t drink all day,” Tellawi said. “I live in the Quad—I walk [to the Yard]. It interferes in the sense that it does make you exhausted.”

Like many observant students, Tellawi schedules her sections so that they don’t interfere with the sunset and naps during the day.

“Most days my classes end around one, so I can just take a nap in the afternoon,” Ali said.

Iqbal, who is also president of the Radcliffe Rugby Football Club, said she doesn’t play during Ramadan.

“In hajeb, sweats, and long sleeves, I’m scared of getting dehydrated and exhausted,” said Iqbal. “My coach is really awesome about Ramadan. She’s totally fine with me taking a month off.”

Students also view Ramadan as an opportunity to share their religion with others.

“Every iftar is open to everybody in the community,” said Tellawi.

Local South Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants cater the dinners hosted in Ticknor Lounge, with expenses covered by HIS. Dinners serve Halal meat and are free to students on the Harvard meal plan.

In order for meat to be considered Halal, it must be prepared according to specific religious guidelines.

The HIS also hosts interfaith iftars such as the Yom Kippur break-fast that will take place with Harvard Hillel on Oct. 2.