Ramadan at DePaul: A reflection on community, inclusivity and devotion to faith

For 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide, Ramadan commemorates the annual fasting season from March 23 to April 21, depending on the sighting of the moon. The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar and is observed through fasting, prayers and good deeds. At DePaul, the United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA) group kicked off Ramadan with its pre-event Fastathon on Feb 14. 

Two hundred people attended the Fastathon event this year. Dinner is served where everybody gets together after a day-long fast and discusses the importance of community,UMMA president Talal Gafoor said. 

With an estimated 750 Muslim students at DePaul, UMMA offers weekly community Iftars (post sunset meals) and Taraweeh prayers daily according to Muslim Chaplain at DePaul, Abdul Malik Ryan. “There is a grand Iftar that will be organized, tentatively on April 15 this year,Ryan said. Taraweeh prayers are the Ramadan special additional prayers that people offer at night before going to sleep.

Executive Director Abdullah Mitchell, Chairman Irshad Khan, Cardinal Cupich and ex-board member Imam Abdul Malik celebrate Ramadan at an Iftar event at the Council of the Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) at the Islamic Foundation North. (Fatima Hasan)

According to Islamic wisdom, fasting is obligatory for every Muslim, young or old, as an act of worship. It is a protection from the calamities of this world and a veil from the punishment of the next. Fasting is complete abstinence from all food and drink including water from dawn to sunset. 

The people who observe the fast get up at midnight and have a Suhur meal (pre-dawn meal that Muslims eat to start the fast daily), after hours of fasting they break it with Iftar. Exceptions for observing the fast include sick and traveling Muslims. It is obligatory for every Muslim to fast or they should give a one time meal to a needy person or fast later in the year to compensate. 

Abraham Hussain described Ramadan at DePaul as a simple yet eventful time. 

For me, DePaul can be an interesting case study for secularism in universities,” Hussain said. “It is built on Vincentian-Catholic values but yet it operates very inclusively.

DePaul United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA) offers daily prayers and weekly Iftar’s, evening meals, during Ramadan. Ramadan lasts from March 22 to April 20. (Erin Henze)

DePaul freshman Mohammad Aman Mohiuddin is celebrating his Ramadan  at DePaul for the first  time  and feels grateful to be part of the secular DePaul community. Im waiting to celebrate my first Ramadan here at DePaul, for the Iftar feast,” Mohiddin said.  

The centuries-old practice of fasting was first commanded to Muslims by Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH, religious head of Islam) in A.D. 624. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is a way of getting closer to God and devotion to faith, as per the Islamic city organization. The other essence of Ramadan is that the holy book of the Quran was also revealed in this month. The duration of hours for fasting varies between 10-22 hours, depending on time zones. Muslims of Iceland observe the longest fast while Muslims of New Zealand have the shortest. This year, Chicago Muslims will be fasting from 5:31 a.m. Suhur time pre-dawn to 7:07 p.m. Iftar time post-sunset. 

The freshmen students who are going to celebrate their first Ramadan at DePaul and seniors felt grateful to be part of the secular DePaul community.

The special food of the season are Dates which the fast observers eat to break their fast. Other delicacies depend on the respective regions. 

We at DePaul keep Mediterranean food such as falafel, shawarma and Khaboos, along with fruits and sweets,said Ammar Khan, sports coordinator of UMMA. 

Chickpea and tomato salad are one of the many dishes offered at the DePaul Iftar evening meal. (Erin Henze)

Besides fasting from food and drink, Muslims are mandated to perform all five prayers without fail, read al Quran, establish Taraweeh prayers in the congregation, give zakat, or charity, to the needy and eschew bad deeds and words. Describing the Ramadan life at DePaul, UMMA organizes weekly community Iftars and Taraweeh prayers daily.”

For Muslims who can afford to give UMMA organized charity events. UMMA raised over $6,000 through events like Fastathon from students and others and it is used to sponsor 10 orphans for a year,Ryan said. This time, we were able to collect $1,500.”  

The other event that the Muslim Life Center of DePaul organizes is the Quran recitation.

Ryan said that all their programs are for the whole DePaul community and welcome everyone.  

The Council of the Islamic Organization of greater Chicago (CIOGC), the umbrella of mosques and social service agencies in Chicago and surrounding cities, organized numerous events during Ramadan. 

We usually organize Quranic verse recitation sessions and host four Iftar events during Ramadan month by inviting political leaders, the mayor, and the governor, said Sana Rasheed, program manager of CIOGC.   

The Downtown Islamic Center (DIC) situated in front of the Loop campus is another focal point. 

We organize taraweeh prayers, the Iftar every day, and also the dinner meal depending on the budget,” said Mohammad Nadeem  Yusuf, a member of DIC. 

The late-night classes for Hadees, Understanding the meaning of Quranic words, are also held. Yusuf said that there are people who sponsor meals for two to three days in DIC.