This month marks the second year Claremont Muslim students are observing Ramadan in quarantine — and during the end of the semester and finals week.
“Ramadan is not just fasting from the food and water aspects, but it’s fasting from gossip, it’s fasting from negativity [and] it’s fasting from how you treat other people,” Malak Afaneh PO ’21 said. “It’s being more conscious of ‘who am I as a person, and how do my actions also embody the spirit of Ramadan?’”
This spirit of Ramadan, as said by Ayman Omar PZ ’24, places a heavy emphasis on connections with others. This is the first year Omar is observing Ramadan without his family, so his community is centered around his roommates.
“Ramadan is very community-oriented, whether that be your family, the greater Muslim community at your mosque or just the community in general,” Omar said. “In a regular year, a non-[COVID-19] year, you would probably have Iftar at your local mosque.”
While Muslims aren’t able to gather in person like before, some community has been felt online. Omar noted the number of posts on Instagram that explained Ramadan, ways to support Muslim friends and activities to do in quarantine, as well as a virtual series led by Adeel Zeb, the Muslim Chaplain of the Claremont Colleges.
This virtual series is one way for the Muslim community at the Claremont Colleges to connect. For Omar, the programming encouraged him to attend gatherings when he arrives on campus in the fall.
Afaneh explained how the 5Cs were an environment where she could celebrate being Muslim. For Aishat Jimoh CM ’23, her Muslim peers similarly affirmed her religion and beliefs.
“The Muslim community was so welcoming, and they made me feel so good to be Muslim,” Jimoh said. “I love the community that comes with being Muslim.”
On campus, she regularly attended weekly jumu’ah prayers but hasn’t been able to continue this activity virtually, adding that praying at home doesn’t carry the same spiritual weight.
Similar to Omar, Zaid Al Zoubi PO ’24 hasn’t interacted with this community in person but found relief in knowing there’s still the shared uplifting experience of Ramadan.
“The most rewarding part of Ramadan is actually being able to make some changes in your life, and they don’t even have to be religious changes,” Al Zoubi said. “This has been a very hard year for me, especially as an international student with a 10-hour time difference. A few days before Ramadan, I was fully burnt out, and it felt like Ramadan came at the perfect time.”
Zeb sent out an email March 5 to all faculty, staff and students, announcing the arrival of Ramadan and encouraging faculty to be accommodating of Muslim students.
“Due to Ramadan practices, Muslim students may need inclusive accommodations,” Zeb said in the email. “To ensure Muslim students can schedule their course load efficiently, it would be helpful to be as flexible as possible regarding assignments and final exams.”
Al Zoubi lives in Jordan, and this time zone difference means there are conflicts between Ramadan and school throughout the day. For example, Al Zoubi has Iftar during his 9 a.m. PDT class.
As a result, there’s less time to devote himself to Ramadan. On the institutional level, Al Zoubi believes more should be done on behalf of Muslim students.
“I wish more people knew what Ramadan is and what it means … to us,” Al Zoubi said. “I’ve never been in a community where the majority isn’t fasting or doesn’t even know what Ramadan is.”
Hilary Appel, a Claremont McKenna College government professor, said faculty were reminded to be “mindful that Ramadan may create issues for some of our students, especially during final exams” during a CMC faculty meeting on April 16.
Harvey Mudd College spokesperson Judy Augsburger also said via email that Harvey Mudd faculty were reminded of the dates of Ramadan and told to accommodate students who are fasting.
In previous years when Ramadan happened during the summer, Afaneh dedicated time to her personal and spiritual growth. Despite Ramadan’s occurring during the school year in 2020, Pomona College’s pass/no credit spring grading policy still gave her room to prioritize her well-being and religion. This year, she said the existing accommodations are not sufficient to balance Ramadan and her busy academic schedule.
“Professors are accommodating, but it’s still not enough,” Afaneh said. “You’re constantly in meetings all day, and then school, [and then] you break fast, and then it’s expected that you do homework. When do you fit in the time to enjoy the holiday?”
“You’re constantly in meetings all day, and then school, [and then] you break fast, and then it’s expected that you do homework. When do you fit in the time to enjoy the holiday?” —Malak Afaneh PO ’21
Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said Muslim students can request accommodations from faculty members and reach out to class deans for further assistance. Gabriella Tempestoso, Pitzer College associate dean of students, similarly said students can contact the dean of students’ office if there are concerns or needs for accommodations.
Although Pomona, CMC, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer are offering students accommodations if requested, students observing Ramadan must take initiative to obtain them.
“The college doesn’t have lists of Muslim students, so it is not possible to contact students to understand their needs,” Hinkson said via email. “All students seeking accommodation initiate conversations with faculty about their need for accommodation.”
Scripps College was the only 5C that sent a college-wide email — via Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment — to faculty and staff with an explanation of Ramadan and how faculty can best support Muslim students observing Ramadan.
“SCORE is working to educate our community regarding Ramadan, the ways in which it is observed and how observance may impact members of our community,” Marissiko Wheaton, assistant dean and director of SCORE, said via email.
The email from SCORE highlighted the challenges Muslim students face because of the pandemic and Ramadan’s proximity to finals this year.
“Muslim students will be fasting during a global pandemic, Zoom fatigue and (most) are back home where there might be limited access to resources and they have to take on other responsibilities,” the email said. “If you’re still unsure about how to help practicing Muslim students in your classes, don’t hesitate to ask them privately what they need, and how you can support them.”
Omar emphasized the need for faculty to recognize the pressure Muslim students face when explaining their needs. While there may not be a full understanding of what they’re going through, it’s crucial to accept what’s shared and offer support. To his Muslim peers, he encouraged self-forgiveness as students enter finals.
“Your Muslim students might need some accommodations, and that’s not to say they can’t handle the work,” Omar said. “We’re in a pandemic, and Ramadan’s falling into this odd time.”
Jimoh said the month pushed her past her limits but made her realize they’re higher than she expected — one of the many rewards of Ramadan. Whenever it gets a little harder, she reminds herself “the sun is going to go down soon” and hopes these words comfort her Muslim peers.
“A lot of people feel immense pressure in Ramadan to be the best Muslim ever … but just know that you’re doing an amazing job and that you’re doing it for the love of this month,” Afaneh said.