The Islamic holy month of Ramadan occurs during a critical time for students taking summer courses. Muslim students experience reduced energy from fasting, in addition to conflicting time commitments between school, work and religion.
Rimsha Khan, a speech pathology graduate student, fasted since she was old enough to handle the responsibilities of Ramadan in sixth grade but has done half-day fasts since childhood.
The intensity of summer classes combined with the many responsibilities Khan has as a Muslim during Ramadan drains her energy levels, but she said she learned how to distract herself and approach the situation competently.
“I definitely have less energy during Ramadan (than the fall and spring semesters),” Khan said. “Whenever it is suhoor, when you eat breakfast right before sunrise, I feel like I try to eat foods that sustain my energy … that tends to help. You do get really lethargic, and it kind of gets hard to get through the day when it’s past noon.”
Ramadan is a month during which those who practice the Islamic faith pray, fast and strengthen their faith. Able Muslims around the world fast from sunrise until sunset, consuming absolutely nothing in between. Fasting is one of the five pillars of the faith, resulting in a stronger connection with God. Ramadan serves as a religious and spiritual experience for every Muslim who is able to fully participate.
Summer classes at UTD began May 30, a few days after Ramadan began. Although it may be hard to expend energy at school, work or elsewhere on an empty stomach, Muslim students at UTD are focused on the positives.
Just as Khan did the previous summer, she is currently taking classes at the Callier Center in Dallas during Ramadan.
With all of the commitments, it is hard to plan everything perfectly so exhaustion can be avoided, Khan said. In the past, she had trouble balancing all of her obligations.
“Last Ramadan, there was about two or three times when it came to the point where I had to take a nap instead of attend class because I felt too tired to drive two hours to and from class,” Khan said.
Despite her busy schedule, she said there are many benefits to the month, including developing patience, feeding her spiritual soul and finding a balance in her life.
“I get more organized just because my schedule is very crazy during Ramadan, so I’m forced to become more organized in a way,” Khan said. “I have to plan out the times where I do have enough energy to study, and then other times I have to plan when I can take a nap or things like that. It helps me as a student.”
Aaisha Dossal, a biology and healthcare management junior, is taking classes this summer and has been fasting since she was 5 years old.
Dossal also had a full schedule for the duration of Ramadan in previous summers. She said although it can be overwhelming, it’s a positive experience for her as a student.
“I feel like God gives us the strength to do everything,” Dossal said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do this at a normal time, but somehow I’m able to get through it during this month. It doesn’t affect (school performance) that much. I think the days I have exams will probably be a little more stressful, other than that I’d have to leave prayers early or miss prayers because of the stress school has.”
Muslims go to the mosque to pray multiple times a day. During Ramadan, they go more often and embrace their faith with family and friends.
It’s important and helpful to keep busy during the month in order to distract from the hunger that comes with fasting, Khan said. She uses this as an opportunity to strengthen her understanding of her faith.
“Each year, I try to set a goal for myself and I try to reach it,” Khan said. “For example, last year I had the goal of trying to read through the Quran with its meanings, you get a lot from really understanding what the Quran says. Since it’s in Arabic, it’s harder to me to understand because it’s not my mother tongue. It’s nice to go back and read from the Quran and be reminded of things that I forget sometimes.”
Dossal keeps herself occupied with schoolwork, which she said makes the summer semester easier because the schedule of Ramadan allows her to spend more time studying.
“I know a lot of students are taking their MCATs during the summer, so when I ask them how that would go, they say it’s going to be a little easier because you’re going to be up, you’re going to be studying, there’s not much else going on during summer, and it keeps your mind occupied during fasting,” Dossal said.
For Khan, Ramadan serves as more than just a reconnection with one’s faith. It’s also a reminder of the problems others face in the world and a chance for Muslims to experience it firsthand and emphasize the importance of good deeds.
“Someone who is fasting is constantly being reminded what someone else’s daily norm might be like. There are people in this world, and even in our communities, that struggle to put food on the table and might be living with that constant pang of hunger,” Khan said. “Knowing this, naturally you realize you don’t have it as bad and develop a higher level of empathy for those who do struggle daily and have no choice. So even though you do start to feel weaker closer to the end of the day, through the grace of God, you are able to find the energy to power through.”