Defining Safe: Building a home away from home: The on-campus Ramadan experience

Noraan Mohamed, Reporter



MUSIC: Ramadan Gaana

Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims all over the world, can be hard to celebrate away from home for college students. Northwestern’s Muslim-cultural Students Association, McSA, puts in an effort each year to help Muslim students feel comfortable on campus during Ramadan. In this episode, Muslim students describe their on-campus experiences during Ramadan, how they celebrate and what Ramadan means to them.


RUBA MEMON: It is a time of getting more in touch with your spirituality, but I would say the biggest part, personally for me, is that sense of community.

NORAAN MOHAMED: That was Ruba Memon, a Weinberg sophomore and member of the Muslim community here on Northwestern’s campus. Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, carries a different significance for each Muslim. As students adjust to a Ramadan away from home, Muslim students at NU are enjoying the month in their own special ways. 


NORAAN MOHAMED: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Noraan Mohamed. This is Defining Safe, a podcast looking at the intersection of identity and student life at Northwestern and in the Evanston community. In this episode, we’re discussing NU Muslim students’ Ramadan experiences — how they celebrate at school and what the holiday means to them.


NORAAN MOHAMED: Ramadan is a time for peace, consideration and bettering oneself. This year, it’s from April 2 to April 30 or May 1, depending on moon sightings at the end of the month. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, reflecting on their blessings and using the time to get closer to God.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Ramadan away from home is difficult for some and fun for others, as they begin to adjust to a more independent lifestyle during the holy month. For Weinberg freshman Zayn Bajwa, the biggest difference between celebrating Ramadan at home versus at NU is the people he’s around. 

ZAYN BAJWA: At home was more like my family and my cousins, which is fun. I mean, I love that. I kind of miss it now, but it’s fun seeing a whole other aspect, like chilling with my friends every night, going out to suhoor, like, not every night but a lot, a lot more. I feel a community in both, but it’s a different community.

NORAAN MOHAMED: For many Muslim students on campus, having a strong sense of community is crucial. Ruba said she misses some aspects of being at home. But she still enjoys being on campus for Ramadan.

RUBA MEMON: At home, it’s nice because you have that food that your family makes and the food obviously hits different, but I would say that that sense of community is still here at college. Thankfully, Northwestern’s McSA is a very accepting community.

NORAAN MOHAMED: McSA, NU’s Muslim-cultural Students Association, has a lot to do with how students adjust to Ramadan on campus. Each Ramadan, they plan community events, iftars, or dinners, and GBMs, which are general body meetings. Rama Darayyad, the administrative vice president of McSA, said the group’s goal each Ramadan is to help foster a strong sense of community. 

RAMA DARAYYAD: We really want to rejuvenate the spirit of Ramadan on campus, especially after two years of it not being the same because of the pandemic. So, because Ramadan is about Muslims being able to get closer to God, building healthy habits and focusing on spirituality, we want to create that space.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Rama is in charge of running the GBMs. She says her objective is to help Muslims learn new things. 

RAMA DARAYYAD: The goal for the general body meetings is to create a comfortable and exciting space for Muslims across campus to benefit and learn more about Islam in new and exciting ways.

NORAAN MOHAMED: While GBMs may be for Muslims to learn more, community iftars are not just for Muslim students. Rama said they openly invite Muslims and non-Muslims to attend community iftars and experience Ramadan for themselves. This open-invite is for building a strong community on campus, with both the Muslim and non-Muslim community. 

RAMA DARAYYAD: Because we’re at a university where not everyone knows about Ramadan, we want to create that space in allowing others to learn about it by hosting community iftars that are open to the public, and really be able to spread that awareness, both in and outside the community.

NORAAN MOHAMED: When I attended a community iftar, I noticed leading members of the Muslim community inviting non-Muslims to watch Muslims as they prayed before eating, or otherwise, eating while the Muslims prayed. 


NORAAN MOHAMED: Many students seem to love the community iftars, especially after so many Muslims and non-Muslims attended the first one, Zayn said. His favorite part of celebrating Ramadan on campus is spending time with his friends for suhoor, a meal eaten before sunrise.

ZAYN BAJWA: The first week we all went to IHOP. That was pretty fun. And just because, I mean, it was 3:00 a.m., no one else was in the restaurant, so we were just there being super loud. And it’s kind of a vibe because like, we were worried, “Oh, is the food going to get here on time?” That kind of added drama and spice to it.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Ruba said her favorite parts of Ramadan on campus are the community iftars, the meals eaten after sunset.

RUBA MEMON: Because, yeah, there’s free food. But it’s also just a nice chance to kind of see everyone come together. And, you know, you get to see everyone and just eat with everyone, you know, hang out and it’s always a good time.

NORAAN MOHAMED: You might think students who fast nearly all day, everyday, have to miss out on the fun parts of college. But while Muslims do participate in religious activities during the holy month, they still participate in nonreligious activities as well. When I asked Zayn what that looked like for him, he told me about a Chicago Fire soccer game he attended with his friends. 

ZAYN BAJWA: So we’re just there for the rest of the 80 minutes sitting in the freezing rain with hoodies and jeans because we didn’t know that it was going to be raining or cold. 

NORAAN MOHAMED: The final score was 0-0. 

ZAYN BAJWA: We were sitting there for nothing.

NORAAN MOHAMED: On the way back, the group took the train. Right before they were supposed to board, one of their friends, Mohamed Eltayib, wandered off to find a bathroom.

ZAYN BAJWA: And we’re calling him like, “Where are you? Where are you?” And so we ended up getting onto the train without him and it left, but as soon as the doors closed, we’re like, “Oh, we messed up. We gotta get off at the next stop.” And guess who we see running down the stairs at that station and gets on the train? Mohamed Eltayib.

NORAAN MOHAMED: As fun and adventurous as Ramadan can be, when asked about the significance of Ramadan to them, students had very meaningful answers. 

RUBA MEMON: Pushing through the day and being tired and hungry and then coming together at the end, and just talking with everyone and finally, you know, opening the fast or breaking the fast with all these other individuals. You know, there is that sense of community and you all kind of just know that you’re in it together.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Zayn agreed that feeling close to the community during Ramadan is important to him. But he added the spiritual side to observing the holy month means a lot to him, too. 

ZAYN BAJWA: I kind of like it in the fact that I feel closer with God. I feel, like, more focused on stuff that actually matters because I’m constantly hungry that reminds me, “Oh yeah, I’m doing this for God,” instead of just doing whatever. More significance is with the community.

NORAAN MOHAMED: For Rama, Ramadan is mostly about spirituality. 

RAMA DARAYYAD: I think the most special part about Ramadan for me is being able to get closer to God and practicing God consciousness, and even just the concept of consciousness. So in Ramadan, we’re able to practice God consciousness, but also consciousness of who we are as individuals and the people around us. 

NORAAN MOHAMED: Whatever it may be that makes Ramadan special for NU Muslims, they know they can always come together at McSA events, meet new people and bond with old friends, Ruba said. 

RUBA MEMON: And so when we have these different events and stuff, it just does feel like you’re getting with friends, and even if you don’t necessarily know them, you do get to know them and you just, you eat and you talk and have a good time. 


NORAAN MOHAMED: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Noraan Mohamed. Thank you for listening to another episode of Defining Safe. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Lucia Barnum, the digital managing editors are Will Clark and Katrina Pham and the editor in chief is Jacob Fulton. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this. Thanks again for listening, and Ramadan Kareem.


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