For the first time in about a decade, the month-long Islamic holiday of Ramadan will take place during finals week at Penn. From May 5 to June 4, Muslim students at Penn will fast from sunrise to sunset each day, and will have to balance their schoolwork with their religious observance.
During Ramadan, Muslim people are highly encouraged to read the Quran as much as possible and to reflect on religious scriptures, which students say can be difficult to balance with the stress of finals week.
“Sometimes you feel because you are studying, because you are investing so much time and making sure that you are doing well in your papers and your exams, that you are losing on the other end of not really partaking in those spiritual activities,” former Muslim Students' Association President and College senior Zahraa Mohammed said. “So it’s just trying to find a balance of how to satisfy both ends.”
MSA Programs Chair and Wharton sophomore Ryanne Fadel said Ramadan this year marks a time when two difficult things — his dedication to God and his grades — have to be prioritized.
One of Fadel's professors approached Fadel and told him it was possible for him to take his final exam earlier. Although Fadel said studying for the exam will be manageable and he turned it down, he felt appreciative that the professor came to him individually to offer an alternative option.
Fadel said he is planning to study during the day and set aside some time at night for prayers.
University Chaplain Charles Howard said for the next 25 years, Ramadan will coincide with the school year.
For many students, despite the challenges of fasting and studying, Ramadan takes on renewed importance because of its communal nature at Penn.
MSA President and Nursing junior Tafshena Khan said she will be done with her classes early next week and that her schoolwork will not be affected by the holiday. For Khan, Ramadan is a communal period celebrated akin to Thanksgiving.
“We break our fast all together,” Khan said. “We all gather at the table and sit down and have the meal together."
As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims observe a month-long fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. Each year, the holiday moves backward by about 11 days relative to the Gregorian calendar. During the period, Muslims cannot eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
While the University policy allows examinations to be postponed for religious observance and allows students to take make-up exams during the first week of the fall or spring semester, the exact details are left up to the faculty and students to decide, Howard said.
During Ramadan, Penn Dining will have special meal arrangements to accommodate Muslim students from May 5 to May 14. Early morning pre-fast meals will be pre-boxed and available to students at an equivalent of a meal swipe cost.
Two dining halls will also extend closing hours for students to have the fast-breaking meals after sunset. Kings Court English House will close at 9 p.m. on weeknights from May 6 to May 13, while Gourmet Grocer will extend its hours until midnight from Sunday to Thursday and until 9:30 p.m. on Friday.
MSA member and College sophomore Shaina Zafar said Ramadan is a communal spiritual month for her, especially when she knows millions of people outside of Penn are also fasting.
“I enjoy fasting during Ramadan regardless of the time and I think sometimes when you do have to do work, it actually makes you hyper-focused," Zafar said. "Sometimes the fasting even goes quicker because you have something to do.”