Campus organizations work to provide resources to Muslim students practicing Ramadan

Individuals from organizations such as Better Together, the International Programs Office (IPO), Our Savior’s Lutheran and Sodexo are collaborating to offer meal options during non-fasting times and overall support and resources to Muslim students observing the holy month of Ramadan at Augustana.

Ramadan Mubarak is one of the 12 months on the Islamic calendar and is a sacred time full of self-discipline and self-control that lasts for the duration of approximately 30 days every year for Muslims worldwide. Once the new crescent moon is sighted, the official first day of Ramadan begins — as well as the periods of abstinence, fasting, prayer and reflection that take place during it.

Many students at Augustana have experienced the positive effects of Ramadan firsthand.

“This is your time to do the best things you can,” Sara Alhasnawi, a sophomore biochemistry and Spanish double major, said. “You pray more. You do more good deeds in general. You give to charity. You’re around your family more. It’s more of a community feel. For me, this is my favorite part of the year.”

Taha Afzal, a junior computer science and data science major, echoed this sentiment.

“Ramadan is primarily for self-control and to make sure that the people who are fasting feel closer to the people that actually don’t have food three times a day,” Afzal said. “It’s a great way to build community, whether it be in a Muslim majority country or in a Muslim minority country like the U.S.”

In an effort to enhance this sense of community for Muslims observing Ramadan, individuals and organizations both at Augustana and around the community have come together since Ramadan officially began on Tuesday, April 13.

Those observing Ramadan fast from dawn to sunset, which often means waking up as early as 4:30 a.m. to eat the first meal of the day, to not getting to break their fast until after 8:15 p.m.

Organizations in Sioux Falls like Our Saviors Lutheran have been in communication with on-campus organizations such as the IPO in order to provide Iftar meals (evening meals that Muslims eat to end their daily fast) for students.

“Justin, one of the pastors at Our Saviors Lutheran church, reached out to me and asked, ‘Heather, how can we support our Muslim students on campus?’” assistant director of international programs Heather Reed said. “That was the impetus for having this conversation. […] From there we brainstormed how we could make sure students knew there were some options available.”

Due to unaligned fasting times and dining hall hours, Iftar meals have been offered in to-go boxes by Sodexo for students to grab even after the dining hall is officially closed.

Shirley Wang, a freshman biology and psychology major and IPO work-study ambassador, assisted with the coordination with Sodexo on how students can collect their meals after hours.

“There is a warmer on student street in the commons specifically for Iftar meals” Wang said. “Students can order on their phone app, and then after eight, when the dining hall closes, they can go to that warmer and grab their food to eat later.”

Students that use this method of receiving food can specify in the comment section of the app that this meal is for Ramadan, as well as if they would like vegetarian options, a substitution for halal meat (permissible meat according to Islamic law), and/or any other commonly eaten food during the holy month such as dates.

IPO, Our Saviors Lutheran and Sodexo are not the only organizations that have made a more coordinated effort to make Muslim students feel supported during the holy month.

Augustana professors and other members of the community on campus have offered to make Iftar meals for students year after year.

Better Together, an organization on campus that aims to foster interfaith dialogue among individuals in the Augustana community, held its “Better Together” week coinciding with the first week of Ramadan this year. Iftar meals were offered throughout the week for students, and events, such as a silent auction raising money for the Islamic Relief Fund and an interfaith service in collaboration with chapel staff, were held.

Although a time of immense growth and reflection, Ramadan and the periods of fasting that come with the holy month often can come with some challenges. There is an effort to create more awareness in the Augustana community of the effects fasting may have on students’ study times and focus level, especially as these full-time students near the end of the year.

“Students are taking exams, they’re working on final projects and to not be eating during the day is pretty tiring,” The Rev. Ann Rosendale, Augustana’s campus pastor, said. “It’s important for professors to simply be aware that Muslim students may be more tired, that in class they may have a harder time focusing and to offer some accommodation where they can.”

Throughout it all, the sense of community and support is tangible and inspirational for many members of the community — no matter what their background or faith may look like.

“People from different backgrounds and different faiths are just coming together to help the Muslim students, I think it speaks a lot about the community value of Augustana and the other groups on campus that they feel supported,” Afzal said. “It means so much to me.”

Rosendale said, “It helps me to grow in my own faith when I have students like our Muslim students at Augustana and witness how they live out their faith. It’s really inspiring to me.”