On Campus

Students celebrate Ramadan in food-obsessed culture

Students tell us what it's like to fast from sunrise to sunset for one month

In a Muslim country, celebrating Ramadan is relatively simple: Most people are fasting from sunrise to sunset.

But in the U.S., most people are eating, and enticing food commercials, an overabundance of restaurants and watching others eat can make celebrating the holiday more challenging.

How do Muslims deal with the cravings, the puzzling looks and the “Are you on a diet?” questions?

The Associated Press interviewed several university students about Ramadan, which begins around Aug. 21, according to Muslim scholars, and runs for 30 days. (Ramadan is set by sightings of the moon.)

Here are their stories, edited from their own words:

NAME: Saba Shahid, 17, of Naugatuck, Conn., an incoming freshman at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

HER STORY: I can remember when I was younger, both me and my brother would pretend that we were fasting. We would go up to our parents and say, “We’re not going to eat. We’re fasting too.”

Our parents never had to force us to do it. We were brought up with Muslim customs and traditions from a very young age.

I’m pretty sure the first time I did it the correct way I was in fourth or fifth grade.

I went to a Catholic high school and everyone was supportive. I had non-Muslim friends fast with me. Sometimes I would go to the cafeteria, and other days I would go to the library at lunchtime.

There’s been days in the morning where I have been so busy I just had a glass of water. But I’m not going to lie. There are some days I can’t wait until sunset so I can eat.

At the end we have Eid (Eid al-Fitr). Everyone gets all done up and stuff. We go have community prayer and then break fast together. We’ll come back home and we’ll get presents and go to neighbours’ houses. It’s kind of like our Christmas.

NAME: Abdullah Shamari, 19, of Pomona, Calif., a rising sophomore at University of California, San Diego

HIS STORY: A lot of kids are really excited to fast. I can remember when I was six or seven, I would fast at school and then break my fast when I came home.

Now you see six-or seven-year-olds fasting all day. Their parents tell them they don’t have to, but the kids want to.

I was about 11 when I started fasting the entire day. As you grow up, you realize the significance.

There’s more to it than fasting or abstaining from food. It’s more of a moral fast. You’re bettering yourself in all aspects.

The first day and you haven’t fasted for a whole year, you’re going to get hungry. You’re going to have a headache. But generally no, you don’t get hungry.

You know when you’re running a long race, there’s always a point where you want to quit. Once you get past that point, you keep going. It’s the same mentality. You get hungry, you know you have to keep going.

In the end, you do feel good that you accomplished something, that you bettered yourself in some way, even if it was breaking a little bad habit.

NAME: Aisha Azher, 18, of Ames, Iowa, an incoming freshman at Iowa State University

HER STORY: I moved here when I was nine from Pakistan. I started fasting when I was 12 to get the hang of it and then when I was 14, it became a must.

In the beginning, you do get hungry, you do start craving, especially if you are watching television and see commercials for food. I keep myself busy. When I’m not busy I think about food.

With friends, it can be awkward, but they are very supportive. Sometimes they change plans so we can go to a movie instead of a restaurant.

They ask about Ramadan. I tell them it’s the month of fasting and in this month we do not eat from sunrise to sunset. Then they ask why. I let them know that in Islam we are supposed to feel how the poor feel.

At the same time, we are also supposed to work on one of our character flaws. I think I’m going to do procrastination this year. I worked on gossiping last year.

I might break fast with pizza. The first thing I have is usually a glass of water, then some fruit.

I try to lose weight – sort of. We have a community potluck on Saturdays at the mosque. There are many desserts, so whatever you have been working off over the week, the weekends you usually gain it back.

NAME: Qasim Ijaz, 19, of Pittsford, N.Y., a rising junior at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y.

HIS STORY: Most of the people in Pakistan are Muslim, so mostly you don’t see anyone eating. Here everyone is eating around you. It’s very easy to cheat. I don’t ever cheat. God is everywhere. He’s watching you.

The good thing is that my friends really don’t eat in front of me when I’m fasting. We try to plan something without food, such as bowling, maybe go play some pool, go for a walk or take a long drive.

But if someone is eating, I try to keep busy with something else so I’m not watching him eat. The more you watch people eating, the more you want to eat. I start reading a book, or getting on the computer. I may pray.

Ramadan is more than people not eating or smoking or drinking water. It’s also stopping yourself from telling a lie, from cheating. It’s stopping yourself from anything unethical.

I was vice-president of the Muslim club last year and got a lot of questions. “Why are you guys fasting?” Then people got used to it.

I like when people ask questions. The best way to eliminate the misconceptions is by asking questions.

NAME: Ismahan Warfa, 21, of San Diego, Calif., rising senior at University of California, San Diego

HER STORY: Some people ask, “Are you on a diet?” and I’m like, “No.”

A lot of people misconstrue Ramadan as a month where Muslims are starving themselves for no reason. People go on diets to make themselves skinny; this is fasting with a purpose. It teaches you self-control.

During the month, you have to try your best to control your tongue, make sure you are nice to people. You give to those who are less fortunate.

I reflect back on my character and certain flaws that I wish to change so I can be a better person. I set a goal for myself to memorize a chapter from the Qur’an and apply the understanding to my life.

Because we’re human, we always crave food. I have a weakness for chocolate. But I would feel disappointed in myself if I allowed for my cravings to control me.

I’m a little sad when the month is over. You feel the blessing of it. At the same time, I feel happy because I set goals for myself for the entire year.

I really love that month.

– The Canadian Press