LSA freshman Seher Chowhan wakes up at 5 each morning, while most of campus sleeps, to eat a large breakfast and pray.
It’s an unconventional schedule for most college students, but for Chowhan it’s a key part of the observance of Ramadan, a 30-day-long holiday during which observant Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. It began Sept. 1, the day before classes started.
“It’s tough for me,” Chowhan said. “Living in the dorms, you have to explain to your roommate why you’re waking up at five in the morning to eat and pray.”
Fasting Muslims usually eat a meal before sunrise and then gather for a large meal to break their fast and pray when the sun sets, but those traditions can be lost amid the bustle of college campuses.
To maintain the community element of the holiday, the Muslim Student Association organizes group meals to break the fast from Monday through Thursday.
On Wednesday night, LSA senior and MSA’s social co-chair Malik Mossa-Basha gathered with about 50 male students in the basement of South Quad to break their fast with 200 tacos and burritos from Taco Bell.
“Back home, it’s like a huge event,” Mossa-Basha said in between bites of a burrito. “When we’re here, we try to make Ann Arbor our community. It’s like a home-away-from-home thing.”
Because Ramadan is determined by the lunar calendar, it starts ten days earlier every year. And as the start date moves further into the summer, the days lengthen and get hotter.
“I remember seven years ago, fasting from 7 to 4:30,” LSA senior and MSA Outreach Chair Salim Al Churbaji said. “Now it’s, what, 13 hours?”
LSA senior and MSA President Yamaan Saadeh said that while the long days make it harder to fast, having Ramadan at the beginning of the school year helps build bonds between Muslim students on campus.
“It’s more of a challenge because it’s harder to manage your time, but it’s also a blessing, too,” he said. “All of the students have a reason to come together as a group and have dinner together and spend time with each other.”
Thursday night, MSA invited incoming freshmen to break their fast with current members. It was again held in South Quad’s basement, but this time, the burritos were replaced by an Egyptian buffet.
“They’re going away from their families, they’re going away from what they’re used to,” Saadeh said about the freshmen. “So it’s kind of an opportunity for them to join our organization, and find a new family here.”
Chowhan said the MSA’s group meals have helped her make the adjustment to college life.
“Of course I miss my family and my mom’s cooking,” she said. “But it’s really great having this community.”
University Housing also offers accommodations for Muslims fasting Ramadan through a meal plan suspension program. Students can elect to forgo their meals for the month, and get the equivalent value in Blue Bucks.
University Housing spokesman Peter Logan said about 70 students suspended their meal plans for the month, while five exchanged their meals for packaged dinners to eat later.