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Celebrating Ramadan

Celebrating RamadanTufts eases Muslim students' transition to campus life during the month of fasting.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.01.10] Meeting new people; searching for lecture halls; decorating your dorm room. These are just a few things on the minds of many incoming students. For practicing Muslim students, however, this year, their thoughts also lean toward preparing physically and mentally for 13 hours of fasting each day during the month of Ramadan.

Often coinciding with the beginning of the fall semester, Ramadan, a time of spiritual purification, can make move-in time additionally challenging for Muslim students, says Tufts' Muslim chaplain, Naila Baloch. This year, the holiday ends on Sept. 10.

"You're meeting friends, but you can't really go out for a meal. You have things to do, but you're fasting at the same time, so it is making things difficult," Baloch says. "You can't just speak about it because it is not part of the culture and for Muslims who come from communities where observing Ramadan is a more communal thing, it is also disconcerting."

To help relieve some of the stress, Baloch says several groups have joined to ease the transition to campus life.

One of the biggest contributors is the Muslim Student Association (MSA), which serves both the Muslim community and those interested in Islam.

"Each year the MSA arranges programming around the breaking of the fast, which is called iftar, at the Interfaith Center," Baloch says. "People will usually break their fast with dates and milk, water or something sweet, and then they pray communally before coming back to eat. "

To expand the feeling of community, Baloch says other student organizations are encouraged to co-host the breaking of the fast. This year, the International Center and the Asian American Center have joined in hosting, while Hillel, Hindu Student Council and several academic departments including the religious and Arabic departments have participated previously. In past years, Baloch says anywhere from 20 to 40 students have participated in both the iftars and the Friday prayer services that are offered year-round.

MSA president Ibrahim Khwaja (A'11) says his group has been reaching out to students over the past few months to spread the word on what it offers. The club has focused on international students in particular, figuring those new to the country could use the most support.

A student-centric approach is paramount, Khwaja says, both for programming around Ramadan and other events.

"I think back to when I was a freshman and try to remember what I was the most worried about and what I felt I needed the most," Khwaja says. "I encourage Muslim students to make the most of what the MSA has to offer, because whatever you put into it is what you will get out of it. We want students involved in planning events that are important to them."

Dining Services is also offering accommodations for students who won't be fully using their meal plans during Ramadan.

"We've worked out how to manage our typical accommodation of missed meals being turned into 'meal money' for not only the incoming first-year students, but also the orientation, peer leaders and other upperclassmen who return early to assist with orientation," says Patricia Klos, director of Dining Services.

"I think it is a great relief," Baloch says of the accommodations Tufts offers. "Fasting is very important in the faith, and knowing there is a place to go to be with other people and pray together and you don't have to worry about making or finding food, I think a lot of students are grateful for that."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.

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