BYU Muslim students fasted from sunrise to sundown every day during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 1 this year and went until May 2.
The community of Muslim BYU students who participated in the fast shared their experience of celebrating the Muslim’s holy month while attending a school formed predominantly by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Those who participate in Ramadan must fast from sunrise to sundown every day of the month, breaking their fast with Iftar once the sun has set.
BYU student and Palestine native Salma Shaksher said Ramadan is not just about fasting from food and drink, and emphasized that to her, it is also about fasting from bad habits.
“It’s to become the best versions of ourselves,” Shaksher said. “We tend to do our best praying, doing good deeds, giving out money to the poor and so on.”
Shaksher pointed out that celebrating the holy month while studying at BYU, compared to celebrating it with an Arab or Muslim community back in her home country felt different, as there are less people to celebrate with.
Aside from being distant from her home and family, Muslim students like Shaksher faced other difficulties. Because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the traditional Gregorian calendar, Ramadan falls at a different time each year. This year, BYU students celebrating Ramadan fasted during finals week.
“I would stay up all night and drink lots of water and eat until sunrise. Then I would sleep a little and then wake up,” Shaksher said.
Shaksher also said she once had to take an exam while she was fasting, and admitted that although fasting during finals is challenging, she was able to find strength in prayer.
“I took a water bottle with me to my finance test. It looked like the sun had definitely gone down and then I drank my water and completed my test. It didn’t affect my grade at all, I did better than usual,” Shaksher said. “When God is with you and the spirit is filling you up, it’s just not that hard anymore. I didn’t feel much hunger or thirst.”
Shaksher recently attended BYU’s Muslim Students Association Iftar celebration and said having a community at BYU gives her a sense of what it would be like back home in Palestine.
“Seeing my family back home gathering makes me homesick,” Shaksher said. “But having people here who are from the same faith practicing Ramadan makes me feel like it’s not so bad after all.”
BYU student Adnan Khayyat also attended the Iftar celebration by the Muslim Students Association and shared the opinion of it feeling similar to the community sense from his home in Palestine.
“I have a lot of Middle Eastern friends here,” Khayyat said. “Even though not all of them are Muslim, we still celebrate together.”
Khayyat said his Christian friends also joined him in his Ramadan celebrations.
“I have a lot of friends who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Khayyat said. “They fast with us too.”
Though Ramadan is a Muslim holiday, traditions can vary between cultures and countries, as Islam is practiced throughout the world and predominantly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Western Asia.
Provo resident Syahrul Hussan said she misses celebrating the holy month with neighbors and family in her home country of Malaysia.
“The children visit all the homes in the community and receive little envelopes with money inside,” Hussan said.
Hussan said the pathways between the mosque and their homes are lit with lanterns and lights to help them get home after Iftar celebrations.
“I miss the lights,” Hussan said. “It was all so festive.”
Hussan also said that Ramadan is a time where good deeds are multiplied, and that she tries to be more charitable and giving during that time.
“At home, we would gather in the Mosques and provide food to the poor and homeless,” Hussan said.
For more information on Ramadan and Islam visit the BYU Muslims Student Association.