The Muslim Students Association (MSA) is preparing for Ramadan, the Muslim Holy month that requires fasting from food and drink from dawn to sunset, carrying deep spiritual signifigance for Muslims. This year, Ramadan will last from the evening of April 1 to May 1, with Eid al-Fitr being celebrated May 2 to mark the end of the Holy month.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Tolga Atabas ’23, president of the MSA, outlined the broader purpose of the MSA as it gets ready to support Muslim students choosing to fast.
“The Muslim Students Association’s main goal is to make sure that students who come from a Muslim background have a comfortable environment to exercise their spiritual identity,” Atabas said. “We also want to create a space for non-Muslims to interact with our community.”
Currently, the MSA board is organizing the logistics for Ramadan, such as securing food options that line up with when fasting Muslim students will be eating. For each day of Ramadan, there are two meals: suhoor is the meal that Muslims eat before the sun comes up and iftar is the meal that is eaten after the sun sets to break the day-long fast.
“For Ramadan, we want to make sure that students who are fasting have access to meals at the times that they can eat them. We have been working with dining services and they’ve been very willing to help us come up with solutions for our Muslim students,” Atabas said.
Atabas described accommodations the MSA and dining services have set up for Muslims who plan to observe Ramadan.
“For suhoor, we are working with dining services to set up a food pantry where we’ll have bagels, eggs, yogurt, cereals, and other types of easy foods that can be made in your dorm when you wake up for suhoor. For iftar, students that are fasting can get two takeout boxes when they go to dinner at Sharples. This way they can either save one box for suhoor or use both of them after breaking their fast. And of course, there are the late night options like Sci Cafe and Crumb that work well with the times that fasting students can eat.”
Along with securing food options for Muslim students, the MSA board has also planned out other initiatives for students following Ramadan, such as iftar dinners held twice a week and speaker events.
“We have iftar dinners planned for each week to foster more of a community environment because Ramadan is all about community and bringing your spiritual level up from the individual level to the community level,” Atabas said. “And aligning more with this with the spiritual nature of the month, the speaker events will either be talking about spiritual topics that relate to the month or they will be Muslim community leaders in the in the greater Philadelphia area. We just hope to get more interaction with the with the larger community and encourage students to learn more about the what’s going on outside of campus in terms of the Muslim community.”
MSA members such as Sannan Dhillon ’23, are appreciative of the board’s efforts to provide community iftar dinners twice a week for students.
“I am really appreciative of the MSA’s dinners because the iftar dinners back home were always a communal event, where my family would get together, sometimes even neighbors, friends, and extended family would come, and you would break the fast together,” Dhillon said. “I was missing that experience last Ramadan, so I’m really happy that we are having that communal feeling once again that is supposed to be the spirit of Ramadan.”
Dhillon also expressed appreciation for the diversity of the club and the opportunities MSA provides him, such as hosting events that expand his knowledge on various political issues.
“I’m involved in the MSA because of the community it offers me. There are students from so many different countries and backgrounds, but we all share some part of our culture with each other and have shared experiences,” Dhillon said. “The MSA also hosts a lot of political events, such as the upcoming speaker event on the Afghanistan War in collaboration with DESHI (South Asian Cultural group at Swarthmore), which caters to my interests. Even those who do not practice Islam can benefit from these events. I love those kinds of talks and that is why I am so involved with the group.”
Mehreen Shahid ’25, a board intern, also expressed that MSA provides her with a valuable community as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab.
“Especially given that there are so few hijabis on this campus, when I wear a hijab, I feel like I’m representing all Muslim women and if I do anything wrong, it’s going to create a stereotype that all Muslim women act a certain way when it’s just seen as a normal thing if a non-Muslim woman did it,” Shahid said. “It’s good to be around other hijabis and just be you, not just ‘the Muslim girl’ but just a girl, and MSA provides that for me.”
Although MSA is dedicated to supporting their membership, those responsibilities can sometimes be extensive.
The MSA board is planning Ramdan events on their own, which has caused some challenges for board members in terms of balancing both school work and coordinating Ramadan events for the entire time period during which Muslim community members plan to fast.
“All the board members are busy with classes, and managing two dinners a week for a month takes a lot of time and planning and just like making sure that everything lines up,” Atabas said.
“We have had to meet with dining services, the OneCard Office, and the Intercultural Center to make sure that everything is set up so that students can access the resources they need. It just takes time and the decision to start early in the preparations really helped, but it’s still definitely a lot of time and planning.”
Although MSA was ultimately successful in their efforts to prepare for Ramadan, Atabas explained that he hopes to see more planning support from the college administration in the future.
“It did seem like the MSA was the keystone element that started the organization of all the Ramadan preparations. So it would have been nice and supportive to see the initiative being taken first by some of the administrative offices, not just the MSA board,” Atabas said. “But they are still very keen on collaborating with us. I hope that this sets a precedent for incidents for them to take the initiative in following years.”
Nonetheless, Atabas is appreciative of the support from the Interfaith and Intercultural Centers throughout the year for the MSA.
“The Interfaith Center and Intercultural Center has been very supportive of the MSA. And Maggie Hussar, the new assistant director in the IC, has also been very helpful to our club,” Atabas said. “She reached out and made sure that there was a transparent and clear way of communicating with her so that we can reach out to her whenever we encounter any administrative problems or just logistical issues, like reserving rooms or getting one card access to places like the MSA and meditation room. That’s been very helpful and just the fact that the meditation room exists in the IC and is open for prayer to any student is amazing.”
More information about the MSA events during Ramadan, which are open to both non-Muslims and Muslims, can be found at the @swatmsa account on Instagram or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was updated on April 5, 2022 to correct one interviewee’s title.