Published March 21, 2023 by Rebecca Goldfine

After Months of Preparation, Bowdoin is Ready for Ramadan

Ramadan begins the night of March 22, when the thin crescent of the new moon appears above the horizon.

MSA students tabling outside on campus
A few members of the Muslim Student Alliance at a campus event.

The twenty-five or so Muslim students who will be observing Ramadan at Bowdoin will begin a month of daily fasting, prayer, charity, and celebration. Ramadan is a time of contemplation, but also of community, when Muslims focus on their connection to God and to others.

A new Ramadan accommodations working group at Bowdoin, established last fall, has been busy over the past few months making arrangements for this occasion. The eleven-member committee is made up of two faculty, three students from the Muslim Student Alliance (MSA), and staff from dining, student activities, residential life, and religious and spiritual life.

"The group brought all the interested parties to the table," said Oliver Goodrich, director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and chair of the group. "Obviously we wanted to better understand Muslim students' dietary and academic accommodations for Ramadan, but more importantly, we wanted to build and strengthen relationships." 

Ramadan Accommodations Working Group

Ahmed Albayaty ’25, Muslim Student Alliance
Matthew Caiazzo, Dining
Barbara Elias, Department of Government and Legal Studies
Adeena Fisher, Dining
Oliver Goodrich, Religious and Spiritual Life
Nate Hintze, Student Activities
Whitney Hogan, Office of Residential Life
Mohammad Irfan, Department of Computer Science and Digital and Computational Studies 
Ange Ishimwe ’25, Bowdoin Student Government
Eisa Rafat ’25, Muslim Student Alliance
Safa Saleh ’22, Muslim Student Alliance

The working group has been especially helpful in connecting Muslim students and dining employees, Goodrich said. Ramadan is spiritually uplifting while physically challenging, as Muslims abstain from all food and drink—including water—from the first light of dawn to sundown.

Yet despite fasting, Ramadan observers partake in daily routines, even taking on more activities like caring for family and participating in community service. Students continue studying for exams, writing papers, playing sports, and joining in extracurricular activities.

Goodrich said dining staff listened carefully to students, and in response, designed a plan to keep them well-fed and nourished. 

Adeena Fisher, associate director of dining, said she appreciated that the group came together early in the year, giving her team time to respond to requests and allowing them "to make sure students heard from us and knew we were supporting them."

"We feel really good about where we landed. It was a great experience to work with and to hear directly from students about what they need." — Associate Director of Dining Adeena Fisher

Mohammad Irfan, Bowdoin's John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Digital and Computational Studies and Computer Science, was one of two professors in the Ramadan working group, along with Bowdoin's Sarah and James Bowdoin Associate Professor of Government Barbara Elias. After supporting the MSA as its faculty advisor for many years, Irfan said he joined the group as a way to help both the Muslim and Bowdoin communities—particularly students. "The overall goal," he added, "was to support our students and to make sure they had everything they need so they don’t fall behind in their classes as they practice their religion."

To ensure professors and instructors are aware of what some of their students may be enduring, Goodrich recently spoke at a faculty meeting. Students might feel weak, he said, especially by the end of the month. During evening classes, some will need to break for prayer or to eat dinner at their desks.

Safa Saleh ’22, a member of MSA, said she agreed to be part of the working group to ensure younger students have a good experience during Ramadan. She recalls her own nervousness as a first-year, contemplating Ramadan away from home for the first time. "You usually experience it with family and community," she said. "So I wanted to make it the best experience possible and to create community for other students."

The working group also discussed raising awareness of Ramadan more generally across campus. For instance, Goodrich will be posting about Ramadan on social media throughout the month, which ends with the next crescent moon in April.

The MSA will be also be contributing to this effort, said co-president Eisa Rafat ’25. One action they're taking is hanging a large informational poster in Smith Union. "We're often faced with questions," he said, "and it would be cool to shine more light on it."

He said some of his non-Muslim friends have also said they will join him in fasting, even if it's just for one day, while other friends have volunteered to cook meals for him and other MSA students.

At the end of the month, students in the Catholic Student Union, Hillel, Christian Student Association, and Multifaith Fellowship program are all invited to join the Muslim Student Alliance to fast for the day and enjoy a meal together at day's end. 

Irfan said having knowledge about other people's traditions and religions is an important attribute to cultivate, especially for young people building their careers. "As soon as a student steps out of Bowdoin, they will likely work in a diverse area where there will be people of different faiths and cultures," he said. "That type of cultural knowledge and cultural awareness is an essential component of life in a multicultural society."

Looking Forward to Ramadan 

Though the fasting at times might be strenuous, Irfan said he eagerly anticipates Ramadan. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan commemorates the angel Gabriel’s visit to Muhammad in 610 CE and the revelation of the writings that eventually became the Qur’an. 

Irfan described the month as "our training period, when we rigorously practice all the elements of serving God." During Ramadan, Muslims are obligated to not just fast, pray, and read the Qur'an, but to also give away at least 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity, to care for family members and those less fortunate, and to serve the common good. 

Ramadan Accommodations

Rafat said the Ramadan accommodations working group has done a great job of addressing Muslim students' concerns. Now that Ramadan is upon us, "it's just seeing if our solutions work and tweaking them when neccesary," he said.

Iftar, the meal after sunset
Because the dining halls stop serving after sunset—when Muslims may break fast—students have the option to eat in Moulton or Thorne. Thorne will have a halal protein available at every meal. But Rafat said many of his peers will likely prefer to eat in calmer, quieter spaces. So students have the option to take their meals to go, in green reusable containers that they can pick up at 30 College Street and use at any of the days' three meals. Rafat said it's likely students will congregate and eat together at 30 College for many iftars, or in a reserved lounge in Thorne, as well as occasionally treat themselves to takeout from local restaurants. 

Suhoor, the meal before dawn
Dining will be stocking the halal kitchen in 30 College every two days with items like eggs, bread, bagels, peanut butter and jelly, hummus, cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, dairy and non-dairy milks, and juice. This way, students can make their own meals or get late-night snacks. Fisher said dining bought the items students said would be most helpful, but comments can be submitted through a QR code posted in the kitchen if supplies run low or they want to request something different. 

The prayer room on the second floor of 30 College will be accessible 24/7. Maghrib, the sunset prayer, will be held each evening in the dining room there, followed by a communal iftar. Jummah, the Friday midday prayer, will continue every Friday at 12:40 p.m. in the Great Room. The library in Russwurm has been reserved from 5:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m. daily as an additional prayer space.

Rafat, too, said he deeply appreciates these days. "Ramadan is one of the most holy times of the year for us, and we really, really enjoy it—it is something that everyone looks forward to. It is a very precious time for us to be with friends and family, with community, and surrounded by good food." 

That good food comes after sundown and before dawn, leaving a gap punctuated by pangs of hunger and thirst. But this act, Irfan explained, is an important way Muslims practice piety and being closer to Allah—along with praying and performing charitable deeds and compassionate acts.

Goodrich said he understands fasting to be a symbolic demonstration of the joining of spirit and body. "The way to intensify your spiritual effort is through the body—through intensive efforts of fasting and abstaining from drink, sex, smoking, and any vices. There is an Islamic term, taqwa, which means being conscious of God, so fasting practices are meant to help you become more aware of the divine presence in life."

Rafat said fasting for him is a way to cultivate compassion and patience. He described the exercise of pushing through the small tribulations and petty frustrations of an ordinary day without getting upset, despite his "hanger." At the end of the day, he said it is easy to appreciate the good fortune of having a delicious meal to eat with loved ones. 

Ramadan, he continued, "is a spiritual cleanse and a reset and a time to ask and ask questions, to ask about the things you want and what you are struggling with....And it is a time to reflect on the blessings we are surrounded with."