Muslim students and faculty aspire to uphold Ramadan traditions

In 1860, Augustana College was founded in Chicago by the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod. This is a church composed of Swedish-American immigrants, according to the college’s website. Today, students of all different nationalities and religions attend Augustana, and according to Muslim Student Association (MSA) administrative advisor Malhar Saheed, the college has done well with accommodating and creating awareness for Muslim students, especially during Ramadan. 

Ramadan was from April 1 to May 1 this year. Arslaan Naseer, vice president of Muslim Student Association, said that during Ramadan, those who celebrate fast from sunrise to sunset. 

“It’s also known as a time where you use the best opportunity you can to get closer to God, whether that’s doing extra prayer at night or reading the Quran,” Naseer said.  

Naseer said he has noticed that fasting during Ramadan at Augustana has been significantly more difficult than fasting when at home and with his family. 

“When you’re in college, it’s a lot different because you’re fasting on your own or sitting in your dorm room, whereas at home, you’re with your family and friends,” Naseer said. 

However, Saheed said that Augustana has continuously offered support to Muslim students. The MSA has worked closely with Campus Ministries to facilitate interfaith conversations, provided space to pray and provided funding for four iftars, an evening meal which ends the daily Ramadan fast.

Despite these accomplishments, one thing that Augustana lacks is regular availability of halal food, or food that is allowed to be eaten under Islamic law, in the dining hall, according to Saheed. 

“Food shows awareness of other people’s cultures. I think that’s an area where we do have a lot by the way, and dining does a great job of trying to inculcate [halal] meat in recipes, but I think that there may be room for more improvement there,” Saheed said. 

Despite the limited availability of halal food, MSA faculty advisor Fatima Sattar said that the dining hall was willing to work with Muslim students that were fasting and coordinated with them to figure out a plan to help them eat when they are able to break the fast. 

“What we worked out with the director is that [students] could do to-go meals, and they can do, depending on their meal plan, two to four meals a day. They can just take them out. [The dining hall] is not going to stay open later, but they are able to come during open hours to take out their to-go meals,” Sattar said.  

Moving forward, the MSA faculty advisors hope that the campus continue to grow and become even more inclusive with Muslim students. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has increased communication with the campus community regarding the needs of Muslim students, but the advisors acknowledge there is still work to do. 

Saheed says that there is a need for a Muslim counslor on campus. According to Saheed, a Muslim counselor may be more approachable to students.

“You want somebody who, when you talk to them, you don’t have to explain what Ramadan is. You don’t have to explain to them what fasting is and explain what prayer is,” Saheed said.  

Like any institution, Augustana can continue to improve, according to Naseer. However, Augustana has provided many opportunities during the month of Ramadan to celebrate and educate the campus community.

“Augustana does a great job with diversity and making sure that everyone feels included. We’ve had several events … and everybody’s more than welcome to come to the events no matter who you are,” Naseer said. “I think they’ve done a great job making us feel welcomed, even though we’re a minority group on campus.”