When dinner becomes breakfast

This past month, Manalle Mahmod has been eating breakfast after 6 p.m.

But the senior, one of many students observing Ramadan, uses the word “breakfast” a bit more literally. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims cannot eat or drink during the daylight hours, which are reserved instead for religious contemplation.

“You can’t drink water,” Mahmod said. “No smoking. Can’t chew gum. You can’t kiss or anything like that.”

Nothing in the mouth is a general rule of thumb, though there is also a general avoidance of all sensual pleasures.

Ramadan began this year on Sept. 1 and ends Thursday. For freshman Nora Elsheikh, that means the first month of her first year of college has been especially tough.

“I’ve always had my family to fall back on,” she said of the holiday. “But this was a totally new environment.”

For apprehensive students like Elsheikh, the Muslim Students’ Association offers a supportive community and frequent e-mail updates to its members. The association also offers an online manual that contains a directory of halal – permissible according to Islamic law – restaurants on or near campus.

Their most popular programs during Ramadan are the nightly iftars, meals eaten immediately after sunset, which are free and open to anyone inside or outside of the GW Muslim community. They take place at Miriam’s Kitchen, located at 24th and G streets. The MSA also occasionally hosts evening meals at IHOP, an statement about the unconventional schedule of Ramadan dining.

Some students said they are not completely satisfied with the MSA’s community, even with its series of group-oriented events. Freshman Zahra Khan said it is not the automatic group of companions some Muslim students expect it to be. Still, the club is not a bad place to find friends, she said.

“Whenever you meet another Muslim it’s nice to know someone with a common bond,” she said. “You feel like maybe you should talk to them.”

Whether part of the MSA or not, fasting with friends encourages commitment, students observing Ramadan said. But neither companionship nor dinners at IHOP can neatly eliminate all the problems faced by a fasting student. Simply put, college life is hard on an empty stomach.

“My biggest downfall is I just really want to get a cup of coffee in between classes,” Elsheikh said.

Mahmod expressed similar cravings for caffeine, as well as lethargic tendencies.

“You just want to go home and watch TV,” she said. “You have to use up a lot of energy in class to focus. It gets easy to stay in your dorm and skip class.”

As first-year graduate student Sahreen Ali Ahan put it, “It makes us nocturnal.”

Although students who celebrate Ramadan agree that the community on campus is generally accepting of their practices, some think their fast causes some alienation.

“My friends want to go to parties and clubs and stuff like that,” Elsheikh said. “You don’t want to, you know, offend anyone. It’s hard for some people to understand.”

When asked about the reason behind the fast, Muslim students offered a variety of answers. Ramadan is a time to practice self-control, some said. Fasting brings you closer to God, and it tests your faith. If you can control your desires, you can become a more modest person, they said. Ramadan brings Muslims together.

At the MSA’s most recent community iftar held at the Marvin Center last Wednesday and co-organized by the Jewish Student Association, the MSA president, sophomore Aria Jamshidi, stressed the value of compassion. He expressed hopes that, during Ramadan, not only Muslims think about helping those in need.

“Maybe you are going to the Marvin Center,” he said. “Maybe you see an old man. Maybe he needs some help – hold the door for him.”

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