52.1 F

Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Muslim students speak about observing Ramadan during Picnic Day

Students from UC Davis’s Muslim community share their experiences balancing their faith and participating in campus events


By MIA BALTIERRA — features@theaggie.org


Muslim students at UC Davis practice Ramadan as a time of reflection and strength supported by community, yet some find it difficult to navigate their observance of faith with academic life and events like Picnic Day. 

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a period of fasting and charity in which Muslims across the globe participate. It is revered as one of the holiest months of the year, and practicing Ramadan is considered fulfillment of one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

A main component of observing Ramadan, fasting, includes refraining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. The meal before sunrise is called Suhoor and the meal after sunset is called Iftar.

“Lots of people may think, ‘Oh you’re starving yourself for 30 days; I don’t know how you can do that,’ but it’s way more than that,” said Ariana Tahmas, a fourth-year international relations and communication double major. “It is a way of [practicing] self-discipline while also connecting to your faith and proving to yourself if you are able to abstain from eating and drinking, […] that you are able to control yourself from other pleasures in this world. […] We call [it] dunyā, so it is a way of protecting our dīn, our morals and faith.”

 At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr where they break fast for a final time and come together to celebrate their strength and accomplishments of the past month.

Aleeza Khan, a third-year economics and Middle East/South Asia studies double major, shared her experience observing Ramadan at Davis. 

“It’s different; at home, it’s a lot more community-based,” Khan said. “I do both [Suhoor and Iftar] with my family. We often go to other houses to eat Iftar together and we pray at the Mosque a lot. In Davis, I don’t have Muslim roommates. My non-Muslim roommates are really cool, sometimes they fast with me, but overall it’s a little more isolating; I do a lot more stuff on my own.”

The exact dates on which Ramadan falls change every year, as it follows the lunar calendar. 

“The traditional method is to see the moon sighting to start Ramadan and look at the moon again to determine the end of Ramadan,” Khan said.

This year Ramadan began on March 22 and ended on April 21. While the dates of Ramadan change, for the past several years, it has landed during a period when many major campus events occur, like Picnic Day.

Picnic Day is anticipated by many, as a time to roam campus with friends in the sunny April weather, buy food from food trucks and visit exhibits. Partying is another common component associated with the UC Davis event. 

Many Muslims feel their observance of Ramadan prevents them from participating in these activities. 

“I wanted to have fun with my friends and experience Picnic Day, but fasting and not even being able to drink anything was really difficult because you are walking around all day and it’s a lot of exertion, so you just get tired really easily,” Khan said. “All my friends got to get lunch from the food trucks and try out the nitrogen ice cream, and you go along and have a good time, but you miss out on some things because of [Ramadan].”

Some students believe that the school should move the date of Picnic Day altogether, as the dates of Ramadan are known beforehand every year. For instance, this year’s Picnic Day was celebrated on April 15, only a mere six days before the end of Ramadan. 

“If they moved it two weeks later,” Khan said, “we would have been able to do everything everyone else was doing.”

Still, not all Muslim students feel their Picnic Day experience was hindered by their observance of Ramadan, such as Jannat Ashfaq, a third-year microbiology major. 

“I had all these friends around me who were accommodating and we did all these other things together, and when they did want to drink, I had alternate activities because of my amazing clubs here,” Ashfaq said. “The Pakistani Student Association and the Muslim Student Association [MSA] had a lot of activities to be involved in. We had an Iftar in the evening. Everyone got food, we got dessert after [and] it was fun.”

Tahmas said her Picnic Day experience was also spent with Muslim community members off-campus.

“This year we had a student-led group called Project Rahman from the Muslim community,” Tahmas said. “One of the leaders put together an event at Colleges at La Rue where we bagged a bunch of meals for the homeless. We went to an area in Sacramento with a large homeless population. We handed out around 200 [meals].”

Tahmas emphasized the important role the community has played in her positive experiences practicing Ramadan, even during events like Picnic Day.

“On campus, I’ve developed such a beautiful community, especially at the Islamic center, with the MSA on campus and even just with my ethnic background,” Tahmas said. “It’s cool to come in congregation and be able to practice faith with one another and know that you are not alone on campus, so I think that’s really amazing.”

While Muslim students shared varying Picnic Day experiences, many still hope the school will take religious holidays into further consideration when planning campus events. 

According to Ashfaq, accommodations for Muslim students are open during campus events, such as the reflection room, a multi-faith room for students to practice their faith in, located in the Cross Cultural Center on campus. 

“It is kind of in a corner, so I think it would have been nice if they advertised it or made a sign saying you can go here,” Ashfaq said. “I know they post a lot about Picnic Day, if in one of those posts they could maybe post about accommodations like the reflection room, it would be nice. We have a pronounced Muslim community here, and if they could advertise it on a day like this, it would probably mean the world to a lot of Muslims.”

Written by: Mia Baltierra — features@theaggie.org