It seemed like any other gathering in the Student Center. Hungry male students clustered around pizza boxes stacked on a table while the females sat, chatting.
The youthful din was interrupted by a chanting voice. “Allahu Akbar (God is great),” sang Waqas Memon, vice president of Temple’s Muslim Student Association, as he called everyone to prayer for the group’s first commemoration of the sunset meal in Ramadan.
The pizza boxes were still unopened. Muslims practice fasting, or “sawn,” in the daylight hours during Ramadan. They also must abstain from smoking, sexual activity, violence and any generally rude, impious or inconsiderate behavior. One month long, the holiday commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.
Muslim families come together to celebrate the breaking of the fast at sundown. If they are college students away from home, some choose to gather with other members of their faith. A hush crept over the crowded room after an invocation delivered by Saudi Arabian exchange student Abdul Aljarallh. Everyone took their place. Aljarallh, plainly dressed in a black shirt, stood shoeless on a red Persian rug.
Four rows of male students stood behind him. The lips of the most devout quivered, while they silently mouthed memorized prayers. As if choreographed, the students chanted in unison, knelt with their heads to the floor and then stood up.
The “hijabs,” or Muslim head scarves, of women positioned in the rear, appeared as a rainbow of red, blue, purple, black, brown and white. For Muaath Saman, originally from Saudi Arabia, it was a bittersweet reminder of home.
“I miss the whole experience of being in Ramadan,” Saman said. “Here it is normal, like any day, but there, everyone is celebrating.”
“It’s kind of hard too, especially this morning when I wake up and see all the people eating, smoking and drinking. And I think, I want to eat, smoke, go with that girl, but it’s a holy month, so we need to control ourselves,” he said.
Saman said not smoking is hard because he likes hookah. “I have my own from Saudi Arabia and smoke it three times a day, normally. But not during Ramadan.
“Aljarallh, who is passing his first Ramadan at Temple, recalled a time when he gave into the sweet temptation of strawberry Jell-O.
“I was about six and my mother had made some Jell-O,” Aljarallh said. “I wanted it, but she said I had to wait ’til sunset, so I took it from the fridge, ran behind the couch, and ate it.”
“When my mother saw me she yelled ‘Abdul!’ I had forgotten that my teeth were all red.” For Abdul’s sister, Omima Aljarallh or “Mimi,” one of the hardest parts of being away from home for Ramadan is missing the early morning meal, the “suhoor.”
Most practicing Muslims will rise before dawn to eat and drink before beginning their fast. During that time, Omima’s father would prepare his family a traditional lime tea, which he would heat on a charcoal grill.
“I’ll really miss the little tea glasses he served it in,” Omima said. “They were so small, and the tea was so good, different from anything you have here.”
Any non-Muslims contemplating the possible benefits of a “Ramadan diet” should be careful. “You actually gain weight,” said Omima. “The traditional food at the end of the day is so good, and there is so much of it! My mother used to say, ‘Mimi, watch your weight!'”
For MSA President Omar Arshad, the hardest part of Ramadan is not keeping the fast, but observing the mental side of the requirements.
“Your body adjusts to the fast. After the first few days you hardly notice it. But your mind is always running – you are always tempted to say something you shouldn’t, and you have to work against it,” he said. “This is an important time for us, when we gather together as a group and share our faith.”
After the MSA’s prayer session, Memon, the student who had led the prayer, handed out dates for students to eat, which is the traditional way of breaking the fast. Then the pizza boxes opened. A low murmur rose as the pieces disappeared. One student, Sameer Tejani, a senior business major, snatched a cheese slice. Speaking from the side of his mushy, pizza-filled mouth, he said, “I’m so hungry! This is a grand feast!”
Jared Goyette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.