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Muslim Students Reflect on Ramadan Accommodations on Campus

Students gather in the Armour J. Blackburn Student Center for Muslim Student Association Ramadan event.  Photo courtesy of Alia Saleebaan. 

Since the month of Ramadan began, the Muslim community at Howard has spoken out about the lack of accommodations and support they receive from their peers and the institution. 

Ramadan, which is a month-long period of fasting and prayers for Muslims, is difficult to navigate while juggling academics and dealing with the strict cafeteria hours according to some students who observe. Muslims who observe Ramadan are only allowed to eat one meal, the “suhoor” or “sehri” before dawn and another, the “iftar” after sunset.

Most college campuses, including Howard, do not have late operation hours in dining halls. This may directly affect students who heavily rely on the two available dining halls on campus.  

The Bethune Annex Cafeteria is open on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the Blackburn Cafeteria in the Armour J. Blackburn University Center is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and closed on weekends. Because of the hectic schedules students may have due to homework assignments and late classes, these hours aren’t always feasible to gain access to.

Though the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on Howard’s campus has been catering to its community by hosting numerous events throughout the month to maintain camaraderie and community, students believe that Howard, specifically, could do more to support Muslim students. 

Meram Mohammed, a sophomore honors biology major, believes that Howard is a great institution, but could do better when it comes to supporting the Muslim community during Ramadan.

“I’m not sure if I can credit MSA to Howard University because in terms of, let’s say [the] dining hall, no actual adjustment has been made. It’s simply a small solution to help Muslim students during this time,” Mohammed said.

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Since Mohammed is originally from Saudi Arabia, she shared that transitioning to the U.S. and Howard has been a “culture shock” and it’s been an adjustment from fasting with her family to a select few peers. 

Alia Saleebaan, a senior biology major and President of MSA, was in contact with the Howard administration along with their MSA advisor, Nisa Muhammad, in order to establish a common ground to create more inclusivity for the Muslim community on campus. 

“We already don’t have enough funding to pay for the food that we use [and] we have done a whole presentation where we need a lot of money,” Saleebaan said. 

As a result, the MSA secured food access for Muslim students and hosted events without much assistance from the university.

“We have our own Mecca, which is the melting pot of so many cultures and tolerance now. And I think a lot of times we don’t have that conversation. Including the prayer room, we literally had to fight for that room. It took us the whole last year to get that and for us to feel comfortable,” Saleebaan continued. 

Despite their critique of the university’s accommodations for Muslim students who observe Ramadan, both Mohammed and Saleebaan applauded Howard for creating a safe space for Muslim students thus far. They both encourage more educational events for all students so that everyone can understand the purpose of Ramadan.

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In response to the concerns from students, Muhammad, who also serves as assistant dean for religious life, posed an alternative perspective. 

“So, there are several places on campus where students can pray…We work with Sodexo so that students can get a breakfast box when they go to pick up their meal so they don’t have to worry about not having anything to eat before the sun comes up,” Muhammad said. 

For non-Muslim students who may not understand the practice of fasting and the importance of Ramadan for the community, Muhammad believes that it’s also time to propose a learning opportunity for all students.

“I think this is a prominent learning experience for all of our community. We have events that will open up to the general community that explains what Ramadan is all about…Everything Black is celebrated. But being Black and Muslim is also celebrated,” said Muhammad. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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