Section: Features

Students navigate their Kenyon routines during Ramadan

As the sun sets each night, Muslim students across campus sit down to break their fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. More than 1.8 billion people worldwide partake in this holiday by fasting during daylight hours and engaging in community meals and prayer. A celebration of the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan lasts from March 22 to April 20 this year. There are unique challenges for Kenyon students observing Ramadan as the semester continues to march on, but also opportunities to connect with each other.

In previous years, Muslim students have had difficulty gaining designated spaces on campus for religious observance like the ones that Christian and Jewish students have access to. In 2019, the opening of Thomas House — a dedicated space for Muslim students — mitigated this issue by providing a place for worshippers to gather and host prayers. More recently, Muslim students were shocked to find that some of the meat they believed was halal (meaning “permissible” in Arabic) in Peirce Dining Hall had actually been mislabeled. In addition to these issues, there are general logistical difficulties associated with fasting for Ramadan as a college student that have created headaches for Muslim students. 

During Ramadan, observers eat a pre-dawn meal known as Suhoor and a post-sundown meal known as Iftar. For Saad Nadeem ’23, Peirce hours have proven to be a stressor. “Breaking the fast typically happens after 8 p.m., which is after Peirce Dining Hall has already closed for the day,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “This often results in limited food options and having to settle for cold dishes. Saturdays are particularly challenging since Peirce closes even earlier, at 7 p.m.” 

Dean of Student Development Robin Hart Ruthenbeck described some of the food resources available for students who are fasting in an email to the Collegian: “Students who are fasting are able to pick up a special to-go container from the Source [a food resource located on the third floor of Peirce] and utilize that to package their meal for Iftar,” she wrote. “We have reserved [Leach Dining Room] as a space where the students can share this meal as a community, if they so choose.” 

The community aspect of Ramadan is one of its most important tenets, and according to Nadeem, it is also one of the more difficult ones to replicate on campus. “One of the biggest differences is eating with others to break the fast,” he wrote. “At home, everybody gets together to break the fast together because everyone’s fasting is on a similar schedule. But at Kenyon, it’s tougher to coordinate because we’ve all got different schedules and classes to attend.” Hart Ruthenbeck understands the hardship that this presents. “It is hard to replicate what everyone thinks of as essential, but my hope is that everyone is able to get their needs met, and has the opportunity to find the familiar while creating shared experiences within the community,” she said.

Looking to the future, both Nadeem and Hart Ruthenbeck see opportunities to improve the Ramadan experience for Muslim students. “Kenyon should work with AVI to expand the menu for people fasting, keep Peirce open later than 8 p.m., and add more halal food to the menu,” Nadeem said. Hart Ruthenbeck hopes to continue the trend of having more variety in the food available to pick up at the Source for Suhoor, writing that “the chaplains and I are supplementing [the available foods] with some other items like dates (which are very important), shelf-stable milk, nut butters, protein bars and some other plant-based breakfast options. This is similar to what happened last year, but the more central location [of the Source] seems to have made a difference.” Students who are fasting have K-Card access to the Source, where they can take food to eat before sunrise (and before Peirce opens at 7 a.m.). 

Despite the difficulties faced by students observing the festivities, there have also been many moments of joy and respite this Ramadan. “The Muslim Student Association (MSA) organized an Iftar on the first Friday of Ramadan, which proved to be an enjoyable gathering as we got food delivered from a restaurant in Columbus,” Nadeem wrote. “A lot of Muslim students got together to pray and break the fast together, which was great for the community.” With regard to advice for future students celebrating Ramadan at Kenyon for the first time, Nadeem’s primary suggestion encapsulates the spirit of the holy month: “Hang out with other folks who are fasting — they get what you’re going through!”


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