June 4, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 52°F


Students observing Ramadan navigate accommodations

Every year, before the start of Ramadan, Ithaca College senior Fabiha Khan, junior president of the Muslim Student Association, said she sends an email to all of her professors requesting religious accommodations for all Muslim students — which is something Khan said she should not have to do. 

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to advocate for myself and my fellow students,” Khan said. “Not necessarily everyone will be able to advocate for themselves or say things out loud. So, practices need to be in place to advocate for students who are not going to raise their voice.”

Ramadan is a month observed by Muslims to be closer to their faith by participating in rituals, like fasting from sunrise to sunset, reading the Quran — which is the primary Islamic text — as well as celebrating iftar, a meal served during Ramadan following sunset each day.  Additionally, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated on the final day of Ramadan and includes a large dinner that is eaten with family members. 

“We’re doing this because this brings us joy, this brings us happiness,” Khan said. “This helps us be better people. It makes us more patient, more tolerant people. And we like being one with God this month.”

The start of Ramadan is determined after seeing the first crescent moon following Shabaan, the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, according to the Islamic Heritage Center. This year, Ramadan is from March 22 to April 20.

The resources at the college for Muslim students include Kosher Korner at the Terrace Dining Hall — which is halal certified and will remain open until 8:30 pm — and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. However, Muslim students at the college still feel that the college can better support them during Ramadan. Another resource led by students is the MSA, a national, religious organization that aims to help Muslim students to reaffirm their Islamic faith while in college. Many colleges, including Ithaca College, have a chapter of  the MSA that is completely student run with the help of a faculty adviser.

The college’s MSA chapter was founded in 2021 by two students who wanted to see more representation for Muslim students at the college.

In April 2022 the Kosher Korner became halal certified and Dining Services was able to better accommodate Muslim students who follow a halal diet. Prior to the certification Dining Services still worked to help individual students with their food needs, but often, the only easily accessible choice was kosher food. Kosher and halal food have slightly different ways in which meat must be killed and prepared. When food is labeled as halal in the campus dining hall, the dish meets the requirements of Islamic law. This means it will not contain non-halal meats, balsamic or wine vinegar, gelatin, deep-fried foods or products with traces of alcohol.

Some colleges, like Cornell University and Columbia University, released statements about academic accommodations during Ramadan. However, Ithaca College has not done so. 

Senior MSA President Klarholz Jobe said that even though most of her professors have been supportive, she still feels hesitant in reaching out about religious accommodations because of how her professors might react.

“I feel like there’s always that gap of people not knowing a lot about Islam and it’s not like I expect them to know,” Jobe said. “It’s a way of life for me and it’s almost a little uncomfortable to have to explain to someone else who doesn’t necessarily understand.”

Junior Sarake Dembele, vice president of the MSA, said that last year some of her professors did not support her when she told them that she was going to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan home with her family in New York City.

“It was kind of hard to hear that, especially because I lost my cousin earlier that year,” Dembele said. “So I felt like it was really important for me to go home and be with family because I was going through a lot.”

Yasin Ahmed, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, said he wants the college to recognize Ramadan more by adding it to the syllabus as well as the academic calendar. Additionally, Ahmed said students should feel comfortable asking for religious accommodations. 

“We self-censor ourselves for accommodations and so we don’t have the audacity to ask for the same space, the same accommodation that everyone else naturally has,” Ahmed said. “It’s almost like they don’t feel entitled to celebrate their holiday.”

Khan said she wants people to understand the true meaning of Ramadan and why Muslims follow all of the traditions that are associated with the holiday.

“I am very emotional talking about Ramadan just because it’s been such a celebration my entire life,” Khan said. “Beyond the concept of fasting … family is so crucial in this month. We start our days together by having our first-morning meal before we start our fast. We break our fast together. You are collectively being pious and you’re bringing peace and calm into your house. So when we are fasting, we’re not just fasting from food, we’re also fasting from any bad deeds. It makes you mindful and makes you respect your food, your drink, your lifestyle even more. It makes you grateful for what you have.” 

Samah Choudhury, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and faculty adviser for the MSA, said via email that she is grateful for the work that the students in the MSA have done for Muslim students at the college despite some of the hurdles they have faced.

“This work isn’t fun or easy,” Choudhury said. “But they’re laying a foundation for Muslim students to enter a hospitable environment as soon as they arrive.

The MSA has hosted multiple events for Muslim students at the college to attend, including  community iftars every weekend. There will be another community iftar April 14 at the Muller Chapel and a celebration for Eid al-Fitir taking place April 21 to 22. Additionally, a prayer session is held at 2 p.m. every Friday at the Muller Chapel.

Choudhury said that while faculty in the Department of Philosophy and Religion are more aware of the difficulties that Muslim students face during Ramadan, she said these challenges should be acknowledged by faculty beyond the department who do not understand.

“There’s always work to be done … and I imagine the more the administration prioritizes these things, the more willing faculty will be to follow suit,” Choudhury said.

Jadyn Davis can be reached at jdavis16@ithaca.edu