Muslim UNLV students celebrate Ramadan: A time of reflection and community

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by Kayla Roberts

“To Muslims around the world, Ramadan is one of the holiest and most anticipated months of the year,” says Maryam Raja, president of the Muslim Students Association at UNLV. 

Every year, millions of Muslims worldwide observe the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, focusing on their physical and spiritual development. Like millions around the world, Muslim UNLV students celebrate Ramadan by fasting, coming together at crowded meal tables and with many other traditions unique to this month.

Fasting, one of the most important acts of worship in Islam, takes center stage during this month. All Muslims are expected to observe fasting during this month, except for “pregnant or nursing women, children, the old, the weak, travelers on long journeys, and the mentally ill,” according to Britannica.

“It is a sacred period where Muslims fast for 30 days by refraining from consuming food or drink from sunrise to sunset. While this may seem demanding, it serves a meaningful purpose,” says Zeynep Akgedik, a UNLV student. Akgedik discusses the importance of Ramadan for Muslims and what it represents, saying, “Ramadan encourages mindfulness and highlights the drawbacks of wastefulness in all aspects of life. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for spiritual cleansing while also nurturing empathy and understanding for the less fortunate.”

Akgedik explains that while the first thing that comes to mind when fasting relates to eating and drinking, Ramadan fasting has both physical and spiritual dimensions. She explains that during the month when abstaining from eating and drinking is observed from before the break of dawn, known as suhur, until sunset, known as iftar, it is also emphasized to refrain from certain actions prohibited in the Islamic faith.

“It discourages Muslims from indulging in prohibited behaviors and activities, such as gossip, causing emotional harm to others, dishonesty and neglecting daily prayers,” she says.

Raja adds behaviors such as overeating and wasteful consumption to this list and continues, “There is a heightened focus on grounding yourself physically and spiritually, which is done through increased efforts of worship and practicing self-control.”

The duration of Ramadan fasting varies around the world according to the times of sunrise and sunset. Akgedik mentions that this year in Las Vegas, they are fasting for approximately 13 hours and adds, “Fasting is challenging, yet recognizing its numerous benefits makes the effort worthwhile. After the fourth day, it typically gets easier as the body gets used to the new routine.”

During the Ramadan month, many Muslims aim to improve self-control and develop new habits by consuming less food while focusing on spiritual development. Akgedik acknowledges that doing nothing while fasting makes her feel more tired and lazy, so she usually engages in activities that keep her occupied during Ramadan. “Being productive is key for me in this month,” she says. “After eating, I pray, read the Quran and explore other religious texts to deepen my faith through contemplation and reflection. I end my night with the Taraweeh prayers, which are additional sets of prayers offered in Ramadan. Overall, I make an extra effort to spend Ramadan productively.”

Ramadan holds great importance not only in terms of its religious significance but also in social and personal relationships for Muslims. Increasing assistance to the poor and needy aims to maintain balance within society, while iftar meals (the breaking of the fast) and collective prayers play a unifying role among Muslims.

Raja and Akgedik also note that Ramadan not only strengthens bonds among Muslims but also fosters connections between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims also invite friends from different beliefs and cultures for meals during this month, engaging in cultural exchange.

“Ramadan fosters an atmosphere of friendship and peace. For Muslims, it is a time to break their fast with family, friends and relatives to strengthen communal bonds. For non-Muslim communities, it presents a unique chance to engage in interfaith dialogue with Muslims, which allows everyone to embrace their distinct identities and differences in a welcoming and authentic space,” Akgedik says. Raja also talks about this and shares that her non-Muslim friends react very respectfully and try not to eat in front of her during this month.

Akgedik mentions that hosting iftar dinners with family and friends is very common during Ramadan and adds, “Some special dishes are commonly prepared during Ramadan, but they vary by region and culture. In Turkey, for instance, dishes such as ‘Sarma’ (stuffed grape leaves), ‘Pide’ (a special bread baked exclusively during Ramadan), traditional lentil soup, ‘Börek’ (savory pastries) and many other dishes are savored throughout the holy month.”

Raja shares some of the collective activities they engage in during this month, saying, “A personal favorite tradition of mine would be reading the Quran together in a big group through the MSA. While worship is between one and Allah, I like this tradition because it encourages good deeds.” She also adds, “An unforgettable memory of mine has to be last Ramadan when I had friends over for the final iftar before Eid. Some of my friends stayed over for the night and we had so much fun together; it will always be a special memory for me.”

Akgedik says, “My most cherished memories of Ramadan trace back to my childhood in Turkey. During the summer holidays, my family and I would visit our relatives there, and I vividly recall the excitement of spending Ramadan with my loved ones. The scene is simply magical. Picture a gathering of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more relatives, all gathered in a backyard adorned with tables laden with delicious dishes. As everyone settles down and the call to prayer is recited, the feast begins, with each person savoring the meal. Seeing everyone unite in the spirit of Ramadan created an atmosphere filled with love, peace, and togetherness, which gave me a deep sense of connection and a feeling of being truly valued.”

Muslim UNLV students continue to gather for iftars and various activities throughout Ramadan. As Ramadan concludes, Muslims worldwide will join in celebrating “Eid al-Fitr,” a special holiday believed to be a reward from Allah after Ramadan, with their neighbors, families and loved ones.

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