Written by Yasir Nouri
During my first few weeks at Brock, a few things happened. First, I made some great friends, people who I still speak with to this day. Secondly, I also met some future friends (although it wasn’t known to either of us). Thirdly, Ramadan was starting one week after classes began.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root “ramida” or “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat or dryness. While fasting from dawn until sunset Muslims are to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids and sexual relations. That’s right; no food, no water. Obvious exceptions are in place if a person is pregnant, nursing, ill or is an athlete. Many Muslim athletes at the Olympic Games are exempt from fasting due to their professional obligations.
Ramadan is a revered time for Muslims worldwide. It serves as an amazing, massive demonstration of human willpower. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, thus it must be followed by every Muslim worldwide. It brings friends and families together to break their fasts, pray, and talk about their trials and tribulations. Middle-Eastern countries officially recognize the holiday. This means that work slows down, people rest, and life takes on a glacial pace.
Canada is not in the middle-east so life continues on as normal for everyone. Muslims often fast throughout the work or school day. This normally does not present a problem for most. Unless you lived in the DeCew Residence.
The holiday moves back 10-11 days per year, shifting the timing of the fast every year. In 2007 Ramadan started on September 13th and ended on October 12th. With the Earth’s tilt the fasts ended mere minutes before the DeCew Cafateria closed. This left Muslims living in the DeCew and Vallee Residences with two choices: attempt to eat an entire day’s worth of nutrition in minutes, or buy our own food on top of our meal plans.
That’s when the MSA (Muslim Students Association) stepped in. Posters went up educating Muslims on campus about the MSA and it’s activities, particularly the Iftar. I was excited! As a first year it was awkward at times to bring myself to meet people in class, although seminars helped somewhat. Here was a chance to finally meet some new people, and eat food. Glorious, glorious food.
I hunted for the MSA, located somewhere along Brock’s basement. After getting lost several times, somehow ending up at the Pond Inlet twice, I found it! It was amazing- the smells wafted through the air as people excitedly milled about, meeting old friends and making new ones.
I walked in, took off my shoes and introduced myself. I was immediately greeted and folded into the group. After some light conversation my eyes began darting towards my watch, clock and every time-telling surface imaginable. It was time to eat soon! Why aren’t we getting ready? I’m going to die here, aren’t I!? And suddenly, the prayer call began and someone began passing around a plate of dates to break our fasts. Quickly grabbing the date and stuffing it into my mouth, I began a polite shuffle towards the table of food. It was rather easy, as everyone else had begun to line up for the fourth prayer of the day, Salaat Al-Maghrib.
I quickly joined them, simultaneously finding a spot while racking my brain for the order of various positions and surah’s to perform and recite. Standing at the back, I had a full view of everyone in the room, including the leader of the prayer. In perfect harmony people bent, knelt, and raised their hands. At that moment in time, every Muslim in Canada was doing it, and during that day every Muslim on the planet had done the same motions and said the same prayers. At Brock a small slice of the world’s Muslim population had gathered to do the same. In fact, I was so transfixed that I missed a few steps here and there, but I soldiered on. Deep voices rumbled with bass as ‘Amen’ rolled through the room, signalling the end of the prayer and allowing us time to perform personal prayers. Heads turned to the right, and we sent greetings to our neighbours. Heads turned to the left, and we sent greetings to our neighbours. People began to rise and amble towards the buffet.
Plates were passed, food was served, and we sat down to eat. Conversation erupted around the room. Conversations about families, school, home towns, and just how good this food is. When you haven’t eaten for twelve hours, any food becomes a topic of conversation. We complained about essays, citation methods and trivialities of school life. We learned of each other, spoke about hopes and dreams, and a small community grew that day.
Subsequent nights were spent doing the same. Prayer was no longer filled with stutter and hesitancy. Hunger no longer ruled my day, and my nights were no longer spent waiting in anticipation for a meal. Even as the time for Iftar allowed me an hour in the DeCew cafeteria, I craved myself the community Brock had presented me.
Brock University’s community had taught me that Ramadan is no longer a time of sacrifice. It’s about personal growth, making time for friends of family. Not just abstaining from food, but from distractions. It allowed me to focus on what is really important, and I can only thank the University, its students and the sense of community fostered by all during Ramadan.