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Portrait of Ramadan: Local Student Strives for Spirituality

Students at George Mason University pray during the Holy Month of Ramadan (Photo: Fatima Rahman)

Fatima Dawood slowly opens her eyes to another day of Ramadan. Looking outside her window, as if to make sure that she had woken up in time to eat a meal before dawn, she is assured that it is still dark, with only the light from the stars seeping through the navy blue skies. It takes her a few more minutes before she pulls the covers off and physically pulls herself out of bed. The time reads 5:40 a.m., just enough time for her to make ablution (washing her hands and face), an act that cleans and prepares her for prayer from head to toe.

By the time Fatima reaches the kitchen; she finds that she has 10 minutes left before she must begin her fast. Her father has already started cooking the eggs. She greets her dad and her mom and helps prepare the cucumbers, tomatoes, and lebne with olive oil. She quickly eats with her mother, father and 16-year-old younger brother, making sure that her brother eats plenty of food to stay replenished for the rest of the day. She herself drinks a cup of milk with the dates and makes sure that she drinks plenty of water to keep from getting dehydrated.

When the Adhan for fajr (the call to dawn prayer) plays on the computer, Fatima knows that it is time to start fasting. She quickly swallows the last bite and rinses her mouth. Her family prepares for prayer, and stands in the direction of Mekkah as they begin the prayer together.

After prayer, Fatima tries to achieve one of her goals during this blessed month by saying her supplications (remembering and praising God) and reciting the Quran. Her mission is to recite the entire Quran at least once during the Month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the Muslim holy month commemorating, most notably, the period during which the Prophet Muhammad received the words of the Quran from Allah. This special month is the most spiritual month of the year for Muslims worldwide wherein they perfect their deeds to God, donate to the needy and increase their faith through reciting the Quran, praying long prayers as a group at mosques and making their supplications constantly. Fasting, from food, bad language and backbiting, is one of the primary characteristics of Ramadan., but moreover, this month also teaches patience.

Fatima is an American-Arab Muslim living in Alexandria, Virginia who devoutly practices Ramadan, increasing her worship to God, and attempting to better herself and become closer to Him. Since, according to Islamic beliefs, the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hellfire are locked, Fatima finds it easier to perform her worship, and to pray more during the night. Her relationship with her friends has become more sincere and she finds herself becoming even closer to her friends at George Mason University, especially since they now share the same goals.

Now 21 years old, Fatima has lived in Virginia for the past 16 years of her life. She was born in London and moved to the U.S. at age 3, so she never experienced Ramadan outside the West until last year. That’s when, for the first time in her life, Fatima visited her family’s home country Iraq, where she found that coming together as a family for an enormous feast everyday was a tradition during the month of Ramadan. This tradition is also shared by Muslims worldwide, including her family in America.

As a student at George Mason University, practicing the month of Ramadan differs from the traditions in Iraq, as she primarily uses her days for studying and running from one class to the next. When she finds other students eating on campus, she might be tempted by the cheesy slice of that steaming pizza or by the chocolaty smelling brownies, “but then I remember why I’m fasting, and realize that there are others who are starving throughout the world, which makes me more patient and thankful for what God has blessed with…and not take things for granted,” Fatima says. “Fasting gives your mind and body this strength and rush of feeling that you would not otherwise feel any other time of the year,” she adds.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between her afternoon classes, she sits in the Meditations area on the third floor of the Johnson Center at George Mason, as she reflects on her day and studies. She also uses this time to recite the Quran and make supplications in the quite and peaceful environment. Just a few minutes before dusk, she meets up with a couple of her friends and together they walk to Student Union II, where the Muslim Student Association (MSA) iftar, or dinner for breaking the fast, is held. On days that she has class and can’t make it to the iftar, she grabs a snack pack, containing dates, Rice Krispie treats or chips and juice, from the box that MSA has provided for those who don’t have time to eat iftar. When Fatima does decide to attend the iftar, even when she has a class, she simply lets her professors know that she will be late to class.

In the ballroom of Student Union II, Fatima finds other ladies sitting on round tables chatting and waiting for the Adhan for Maghrib prayer, which lets them know that the sun has set and it is time to break their fast. The gentlemen sitting on the opposite side of the room are served dinner separately. Those students who have a 7:20 p.m. class are served first. Before eating, and after breaking their fast with a date, the Imam recites the Quran out loud, while the rest of the crowd follows in straight lines for prayer. When asked about how the food tastes, Fatima replies, “If you haven’t been eating the entire day, all food tastes good to you.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, MSA hosted a Fastathon to encourage non-Muslims to fast for charity. A host of businesses signed pledges, donating a dollar for each non-Muslim student or person fasting on this day to an area soup kitchen. Their ad reads that if you fast, you can go hungry “so others won’t have to.”

The month of Ramadan is the month of forgiveness; not only does Fatima ask God for forgiveness and assured that she will be forgiven as long she repents and continues doing good deeds, but she also tries to forgive her friends and others who may have done wrong to her, giving them excuses for their actions.

“Fasting is for us not for God; it’s not a test but a gift. You feel special and blessed that Allah gave us this month,” she says, describing the month as “Beautiful—No other month like it.”

Her favorite part of Ramadan is going to pray at the mosque during the nights, as she stands there in a row with other members of the Muslim community. She says that as the Imam recites the Quran in “the most beautiful calming voice” she forgets all her troubles and worries. She also adds, “standing there with other Muslim sisters makes me feel this great sense of community, which I feel helps me get closer to God as well as my fellow sisters in Islam.”

Ramadan will end in four days and on Monday, Oct. 23, Muslims worldwide will celebrate Eid Al-Fitr. Adults and children dress in their best clothes, happily greet each other with the phrase “happy Eid,” and meet at a designated site to pray the Eid prayer.  Fatima, like many others celebrating Eid, looks forward to exchanging gifts with family and friends. On this day, Fatima no longer fasts, and though she continues making her prayers, she says she’ll enjoy all the chocolate brownies and chewy chocolate chip cookies she can eat while appreciating and valuing every mouth and sip of that fresh milk.

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