Ramadan at Johns Hopkins: A Student and Organizer Perspective

Lunar Calendar and Timing of Ramadan

Ramadan holds different emotional meanings for many Muslims around the world, encompassing topics such as self-discipline, gratitude, humbleness and renewal of connection with God. Yet, at its most basic level, it is a month of daily abstinence from food and drink from dawn until sunset.

Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the lunar calendar, moving about 10 to 12 days earlier every year in the Gregorian calendar due to discrepancy between the two calendars. This year, Ramadan was observed in April.

What is a day like during Ramadan?

Depending on the person’s level of observance, Muslims participate in a variety of religious observances during Ramadan, including five daily prayers, praying at a mosque after the breaking of fast, reading the Quran (some people try to complete the entire 604-page Arabic scripture during the month), volunteering, attending religious talks and, most important of all, breaking the fast!

Many Muslims like to break their fast with friends who are either fasting or not fasting. Some encourage friends to attempt fasting during Ramadan.

People who fast are advised to wake up pre-dawn to have an early breakfast meal, known in Arabic as Suhoor and in Persian/Urdu as Sehri. The meal during which Muslims break their fast at sunset is Iftar.

Before Iftar, Muslims recite a prayer declaring their intention to break the fast and a hope for God’s acceptance. This time may also be used to pray for other things, based on the Islamic principle that a fasting person’s prayer will always be accepted.

Ramadan and Community

Like followers of many religions, Muslims believe in the spiritual value of the community, communal worship and continuous establishment of ties. Building on this principle, it is very common for iftar to be held with family members, relatives or friends. Many Muslims who break their fast alone say they feel discontentment, loneliness and homesickness. So, the Johns Hopkins Graduate Muslim Students Association (JHGMSA) hosted Iftar twice per week throughout the month, at the Greenhouse Cafe in the Preclinical Teaching Building.

Ramadan at Johns Hopkins

Currently, members of the Muslim community at Johns Hopkins come from a variety of professions and graduate schools. Some are American and others have traveled from their home country.

The iftars provided a sense of community away from home for many students. Mehak Fida, who moved from Lahore, Pakistan, to study at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, says, “As a Muslim away from home, these iftars were literally one of the rare moments when I could beat feeling lonely. When you’re lonely, hungry, out of energy, the people surrounding you fill you with their energy and warmth.”

Armaan Ahmed, a fourth-year medical student, also says these events are important to provide a sense of communal worship and companionship. “I had the opportunity to meet and get to know folks from every corner of the university, its various schools and institutes, and its surrounding community Ahmed says. “The environment of hospitality and love that it creates on campus cultivates a sense of shared humanity and deep connection that can often be difficult to find in the academic or professional setting. I believe the organizers are doing a great service not only to support Muslim students, faculty and staff on campus, but also by making a positive contribution to the Hopkins community at large with their sincere efforts and generosity in hosting these events.”

The iftars were also widely attended by nonfasting people and people from faith groups other than Muslims. The JHGMSA also hosted a collaborative iftar with the Medical Interfaith Alliance. Ashwin Reddy, an attendee and a first-year medical student, says, “Iftar was nourishment for both my body and my soul. The sweet dates, hearty dinner and flaky baklava were all filling treats for my stomach. It is so rare, however, for my soul — forever craving connection and community — to feel full. Yet, it was satiated at the sight of so many different faces united in communal prayer and by the conversations I made while serving food. It was satiated by playful banter and the hospitable quarreling over who would eat before who. Thank you, GMSA, for showing me such kind hospitality and for feeding my soul!”

Ramadan Iftars at Johns Hopkins — An Organizer’s Perspective

Positive accounts from community members are deeply rewarding to hear for me as one of the co-presidents and organizers of these iftars. Organizing the iftars required extensive weeks of preparation in advance and time-intensive work, whether that be making connections with local caterers and community members or serving food for 85-plus people. One of the most challenging and time intensive parts of organizing these iftars was the accrual of funds. This required outreach and communication with various offices, sometimes with limited success.

The process of planning the iftars was a feat that was eased by the blessing that I had this Ramadan: My academic demands naturally relinquished in intensity compared to the beginning of the year. Yet, I had a lingering thought at the back of my mind: “What if I don’t have the same amount of time to commit to this next year? Who will take charge of organizing such initiatives? Another student that seeks to balance heavy academic demands along with spiritual and communal practices?”

In pondering this, I realized that as a Muslim student, I along with other students are often required to make these spaces for ourselves. Naturally, as a result, it may take away time that we would otherwise devote to our academic and professional development. I invite administrators to ponder what roles they can play in providing greater support to students either directly or indirectly observing this spiritual month. It is important for educators to also contemplate how students from different backgrounds may have commitments beyond their academics, as they seek to create and consolidate safe spaces for themselves that are central to their identity.

Raising this point is important in our dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion. Indeed, in this conversation, it is important to continue developing our perspective on the dynamic interplay that students and institutions can play in providing mutual communal support, which is an ongoing conversation that the JHGMSA is having with offices at Johns Hopkins.


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