For the past four weeks, Rashid M. Yasin ’12 has folded back his covers around 4:15 a.m., rising to make a meal comprised of protein, grain and dairy, which he washes down with plenty of water to sustain him throughout the day. He then heads to a faucet to do wudu, the Islamic procedure for purifying oneself in preparation for prayer. Once he has washed his hands, face, mouth, arms and feet, Yasin performs the first of five daily prayers. He praises God and asks for forgiveness, concluding his prayer with personal supplication.
“I tend to pray for guidance and forgiveness and success in this life and the next,” Yasin says. “I pray to be able to incorporate consciousness of God and His will in all I do.”
Yasin’s morning ritual ends when he slips back under his covers again, still in the dark. After suhoor, his early meal, he will not break his fast for approximately 15 hours, going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset.
Yasin, the president of the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS), is observing Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting that ends Monday. This year he is doing so in Cambridge, but this is not the case for many Harvard students. Ramadan’s date is determined by the lunar calendar, and this year, the month does not overlap with the academic year as it has in the past. So Muslim Harvard students are showing their devotion to their faith all over the world, from Minnesota to South Korea, Senegal to Palestine.
ROUTINES AND RITUALS
Although Fatoumata B. Fall ’14 started the summer in her home nation of Senegal, she plunged into Ramadan in Seoul, South Korea, as a student in Harvard’s six-week summer school program at Ewha Womans University. She maintained her fast through studies and a two-week internship with an international development institute.
During what she considers a blessed month, Fall alters her daily schedule to practice her faith. Rising early, she prays five times throughout the day and reads the Quran after work. When dusk descends, she prepares for iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast. Following her fill, she prays, meets with friends, and spends time on the Internet until she sleeps “after the morning.”
“Let’s just say there is lots of sleeping in on the weekend,” quips Nima Y. Hassan ’14, a Somali-American who is observing Ramadan in Ham Lake, Minnesota.
Like Hassan, Lena K. Awwad ’13, who observed Ramadan in Palestine this summer, also awakens to eat and pray before the sun rises.
For each student, pangs of hunger are a reality throughout the day. Awwad combats her cravings by avoiding salty foods and consuming enough water to “keep awake.” She fills her day with prayers until she breaks her fast with dates and cup of milk or water, which, she explains, was “how the Prophet used to do it.”
THE MONTH AND ITS MINDFULNESS
For Hassan, Ramadan is a dedicated time for believers to focus on getting closer to God. With constant demands on her time and the overwhelming presence of the Internet, she says it can be difficult to find the space and time to thank and praise God.
“We spend a lot of our time wired and moving onto the next activity,” Hassan says. “But in Ramadan, there’s a mindfulness that’s encouraged and expected of you which you don’t really make the time for otherwise. Ramadan is not just quieting the noise, but doing so with a purpose to hear God.”
Aside from being a religious and family-oriented month, Ramadan provides space for people to learn tolerance, Awwad says. She considers prayer on an empty stomach during Ramadan to be more reflective than prayer at any other time throughout the year.
“While fasting from sun-up to sun-down, it is important not to waste the day or the opportunity to get closer to your religion and the people around you,” Awwad says. “You see life as more than just in between the meals.”