‘A Very Communal Time’: Muslim Harvard Students Gather for Ramadan Celebrations Across Campus

At Harvard, Muslim students, faculty, and other affiliates are coming together to break the fast at school-sponsored meals at the Student Organization Center at Hilles and student-planned events at undergraduate houses around campus.
By Tyler J.H. Ory

Students gather for iftar at the Student Organization Center at Hilles during Ramadan.
Students gather for iftar at the Student Organization Center at Hilles during Ramadan. By Joey Huang

For many Harvard students, staying up until 4 a.m. typically involves a late night spent at Lamont Library to write an essay or finish a problem set.

But one dedicated group of undergraduates at Leverett House is staying up for a different reason — to cook weekly suhoor meals for Harvard affiliates throughout the month of Ramadan.

Iqra Noor ’23 said because “community is very central” to Ramadan, she and two blockmates — Reem Khalid Ali ’23 and Sadia M. Laisa ’23 — wanted to ensure students could come together for the meals.

“We start preparing food starting at 11 p.m. on Friday nights until the mealtime, which is around 4 a.m.,” Noor said. “This is honestly the only all-nighter I would pull any day.”

The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a sacred time of fasting, prayer, and reflection.

At Harvard, Muslim students, faculty, and other affiliates are coming together to break the fast at school-sponsored meals at the Student Organization Center at Hilles and student-planned events at undergraduate houses around campus.

Ramadan began this year on the evening of March 22, marking the fourth consecutive year that the month has occurred during the College’s spring classes. It will continue until sundown on April 21.

‘Really Grateful’

During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, eating the pre-dawn meal, suhoor, early in the morning and the fast-breaking meal, iftar, in the evening.

With most dining halls closing by 7:30 p.m. and sunset occurring in Boston around 7:20 p.m. or later, eating at Harvard’s dining halls can be difficult during Ramadan.

Throughout the month, Harvard Muslim Chaplains Khalil Abdur-Rashid and Samia Omar have been hosting iftar each night from 7 to 9 p.m., followed by nightly prayer from 9 to 10 p.m. in the SOCH.

Maryam S.K. Tourk ’25, co-president of the Harvard Islamic Society, said she feels “really grateful” for the nightly gatherings at the SOCH.

“Ramadan is a very communal time, and being separated from that community can be really hard,” Tourk said. “It’s a really cool time where the SOCH kind of turns into a Muslim community hub, where there’s Muslim students from all the different Harvard schools.”

Janna E. Ramadan ’23, a Crimson Blog Editor, said she “really appreciated” the space to break fast in the SOCH among peers.

“It feels different to break your fast with other people who have also been fasting than to break your fast in the dining hall,” she said.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that “funding was provided by the President’s Office to support” iftar in the SOCH but added that he could not disclose the amount.

Tourk said she believes there is a “misconception that Ramadan is a super daunting or challenging time” for Muslims, adding that people “don’t necessarily understand the super positive and uplifting” aspects of the month.

“For me, Ramadan is actually my favorite time of the year — definitely something that is not uncommon among Muslims,” she said.

Hasan S. Quadri ’25, the other HIS co-president, said Ramadan is marked by “community interwoven with individual self-reflection.”

“I know for many students, this is the first time that they may be practicing away from home,” Quadri said. “So to be able to have an individual celebration, in addition to the community, is fantastic.”

‘Why Not Do This?’

While the SOCH offers a space for students to gather and break the fast together each night for iftar, Harvard University Dining Services’ bagged meals remain the primary option for students to get their morning meal.

Quadri said HIS began hosting weekly suhoor meals in various residential areas on campus this year to supplement Ramadan celebrations, gathering more than 50 people together for a “really good bonding experience.”

Ali — one of the Leverett House students who has been helping to cook morning meals — said she noticed a “gap” in Ramadan programming with the HUDS bagged meals provided for suhoor, which she said were “not exactly the most filling meal.”

“I think that, speaking specifically about the Lev suhoors, they’ve come to become literally my favorite thing that I’ve ever done in college,” Ali said.

Noor, Ali, and Laisa were inspired by Mather House students who began cooking suhoor last year, according to Noor.

“We were like, ‘Why not do this?’” Noor said. “It was supposed to be just like a one-time thing, and we did it once and then we had a lot of fun.”

For the month of Ramadan, HUDS established a program where groups can order breakfast ingredients to be picked up the night before.

In addition to taking advantage of HUDS’ program, Ali said their blocking group was able to secure $350 from Leverett to shop for ingredients.

In an emailed statement, Leverett House Faculty Deans Daniel G. Deschler and Eileen E. Reynolds ’86 wrote that they were “happy to support the students with the full amount that they requested.”

Deschler and Reynolds added that they “subsequently worked with them to support additional dollars for the purchase [of] house decorations for Ramadan.”

“We’re really appreciative to both HUDS and Leverett House supporting our initiative,” Noor said.

Nurayn Y. Khan ’26, an attendee of the Leverett suhoor, spoke about missing the familial element of the holiday.

“My family would always eat together, pray together, we’d go to family parties together, and all the cousins would get together,” Khan said.

While Khan said she was “a little bit sad” to be away from home during the month, she saw Ramadan at Harvard as a chance to “reinstate that sense of community and have a really fun time.”

Khan praised Noor, Ali, and Laisa’s work in preparing suhoor throughout Ramadan.

“I think Ramadan is all about being with the community and uplifting each other — and I think those three girls, they do such a good job of doing that,” Khan said. “They really, really put in the work — like they will be cooking all night, and they have so many people who come and the food is honestly amazing.”

Ramadan said there has been “extra support” for suhoor this year compared to last year, adding that there have been organized meals in houses across campus several times each week.

“There were maybe only two or three big organized ones last year, and it was more like you need to go get a bag of snacks and food from HUDS, where this year, every week we have at least one if not two or three suhoor that anyone can come out to,” Ramadan said.

“It is definitely a change that is very sweet, and people are coming out and taking advantage of it,” she added.

—Staff writer Tyler J.H. Ory can be reached at tyler.ory@thecrimson.com.

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