by Muslim Chaplain Nada El-Alami
Working alongside Student Support Services and GradSupport, the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life supports students who need accommodations to participate fully in both their religious tradition and academic and community life of MIT.
MIT is a wonderfully diverse place, and students may observe a wide variety of religious holidays and practices. A partial list is available from the Registrar’s Office at https://registrar.mit.edu/calendar/religious-holidays.
Here we want to highlight one group of students who will especially benefit from the community’s awareness in Spring 2021: Muslim students who observe Ramadan. In this article, Muslim Chaplain Nada El-Alami shares some tips for supporting students during this holy month.
Every year, Muslims fast each day of Ramadan from dawn until dusk, for the duration of the month. This year, the dates of Ramadan are expected to fall within Monday, April 12, 2021 and Wednesday, May 12, 2021. The Islamic Calendar follows a lunar cycle, and while these are the calculated expected dates of Ramadan, they can differ from place to place based on moon-sightings or lack thereof. Some Muslims strictly follow calculations, while others strictly follow moon-sightings, and some follow a combination of both. What Muslims choose to follow can depend on their religious convictions, where they have lived in the world, and what their families practice. The day after the end of Ramadan is a religious holiday called Eid-al-Fitr.
For each day of Ramadan, fasting consists of abstaining from eating or drinking, including water, while the sun is out. Once the sun has set, Muslims eat dinner, a meal called “iftar” in Arabic. Iftar is generally a community-focused meal, where family members and friends come together for the blessed occasion. Afterwards, eating and drinking during the night is allowed until dawn of the next day.
During Ramadan, it is customary for Muslims to pray extra nightly prayers and participate in other religious practices throughout the day and night, when possible. They will often wake up for or stay up until “suhur”, a pre-dawn meal.
While Muslims are expected to meet their daily schedule obligations for school and work, some accommodations are needed to be able to be successful while fully engaged in the various aspects of Ramadan. Students may reach out to faculty to request religious accommodations during Ramadan. We encourage them to have this conversation before the month begins. Accommodations could include moving the time of an exam and/or allowing more time so they can schedule it around suhur, iftar, prayer, etc. Some students may prefer to take an exam earlier in the day when they feel more energized, while others would rather take it at night.
While certain Covid restrictions are in place this year due to Covid-19 safety and public health concerns, in future years, other aspects of a students’ life may be affected as well. We encourage groups and friends to have a conversation before Ramadan begins as well and talk about how Ramadan may change participation and energy levels. Consider changing events during the day to avoid food-centric events and high energy activities. Whenever possible, provide a quiet space and allow short breaks for prayer. While some students may want to preserve their energy during the fast, others may push themselves and increase their activity level. Each student is different in their ability to observe the fast and will make choices accordingly.
Students should also have accommodations on Eid-al-Fitr (Wednesday, May 13). This is a time for celebration after a month long of fasting. Students should be excused from their regular schedules on that day, including taking any exams and attending class.
Especially because students are fasting all over the world at different times, changes in deadlines that have occurred due to the virtual-world format may not suffice. In general, flexibility with deadlines and understanding that students’ schedules are shifting due to suhur, iftar, prayer, etc. is the best way to support students.
While students are responsible for requesting accommodations, you can put them at ease by noting that Ramadan is approaching and that you know it may affect all aspects of students’ schedules. Your support will allow them to fulfill the requirements of the class while being spiritually engaged in the rituals of the month.