Every year, Muslims around the world come together to celebrate the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan. It’s a month filled with fasting, late nights, early mornings, dinner gatherings–which are known as iftars–and dates. Lots of dates.
“Ramadan is a time of getting closer to God,” said Salma Zaghari, a freshman at River Hill. “It’s just a really special month for me and my family.”
Ramadan is a religious event that usually lasts twenty-nine or thirty days. The event often falls on a different day every year because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian. For the duration of the month, the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world fast from sunrise till sunset. When Muslims fast, they not only abstain from food, but from all impure acts: swearing, lying, cheating etc. Fasting is also done as a way to get closer to God and as a means of empathizing with the less fortunate. During this month, Muslims are encouraged to do extra good deeds and give more charity. A typical day in Ramadan for high school students would look like the following: waking up before sunrise to eat a small meal called Suhoor to sustain oneself for the fasting day, attending school and after-school activities regularly, breaking the fast at sunset with dates and eating Iftar (dinner), then going to the mosque to pray the special nightly prayer, Taraweeh.
“People think we starve ourselves, or that we have an eating disorder,” said Mt. Hebron sophomore, Arooj Vohra. “But we [Muslims] are just fasting.”
Islam isn’t the only religion that requires religious fasts. Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism are just a few examples of others. This year, since Ramadan falls during the school year, many Muslim high schoolers are struggling to adjust their busy schedules to accomodate long days of fasting.
Senior and president of Wildlake High School’s Muslim Student Association, Ayah Abdull-Latif talked about the struggles of balancing her schoolwork with her personal life during Ramadan. “You have no time to get your work done,” she said.
Zaghari reflected Abdull-Latif’s thoughts. She said, “The fact that I’m fasting means I’m not going to be able to do all this work and meet all these deadlines.”
Mt. Hebron sophomore Noureen Fatima added, “You feel kind of left out. Especially when your friends are eating lunch and you’re just sitting there and watching them; you feel more isolated that way. But you know, Ramadan comes with those kinds of hardships.”
Although some Muslim students find fasting during school to be difficult at some times, some don’t. “Personally, I don’t have any hardships while fasting at school,” said Atholton freshman Kinza Saduzai. “Nobody really bothers me, they’re mostly [just] curious.”
The students also shared the many misconceptions that they often hear regarding Ramadan.
“ ‘Do you not starve all day?’ ‘Why do you starve yourself for 30 days straight?’ ‘How are you not dead,’ ” are a few of the comments that Abdull-Latif has heard throughout her middle and high school years.
“I always hear, ‘You can’t drink water?’ or ‘Not even water?’ ” said Vohra.
Saduzai said, “The main misconception I hear about Ramadan is that it’s just about the eating and drinking, and that I’m forced to do it. Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. It’s about becoming a better person, and cleansing yourself. I’m not being forced to do anything; I’m fasting at my own free will.”
In order to still feel the spirit of Ramadan during the school year, presidents of all Muslim Student Associations throughout Howard County gathered together to organize a youth Iftar.
“I wanted the Iftar to bring us all [Muslim Howard County students] together in one place to celebrate Ramadan,” said Jenna Hassanein, president of Glenelg High School’s MSA, and organizer of the first Annual HoCo Ramadan Iftar. She also added that “the lack of representation of Muslims in Howard County” inspired her to create a space for interaction between Muslim students across the county.
The Iftar took place during the first week of Ramadan, on April 6th, at the Dar-Al-Taqwa mosque in Howard County with more than 150 attendees.
“The thing I enjoyed the most about the Iftar was the people,” said Saduzai. “Events like these are important to Muslim students because [they] create a safe place for Muslim teens. I think it makes them feel better, or at least it makes me feel better to know that there are so many people out there just like me.”
Despite the Iftar providing an open space for Muslim youth, many Howard County students expressed the lack of knowledge about Ramadan in their own schools.
“A lot of people are very confused about Ramadan,” said Vohra. Many of the other students such as Abdul-Latif and Zaghari shared that ignorance towards the religious holiday plays a big factor into the lack of open-mindedness.
Although fasting in high school comes with many hardships Zaghari said, “Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims at your school, so being respectful and mindful of the fact that they are fasting all day is very important to them.”