Muslim Students Reflect on Spiritual Growth During the Holiest Days of Ramadan

Posted Apr 05, 2024

By Maggie Nicol ’25

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, and Muslim students on campus are currently celebrating the holiest part of Ramadan — the last 10 days. It is believed that on one day during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

The start of Ramadan is based on the lunar cycle. This year it started March 10and will end the evening of April 9.

Ramadan is both a personal and communal experience, and it is considered a time for spiritual renewal and growth. During Ramadan, Muslims wake up early in the morning before the sunrise to pray and eat meals before fasting from dawn until sunset. Fasting means abstaining from all foods or drink (including water). Those unable to fast, such as pregnant, nursing, or menstruating women; individuals who are ill or elderly; and children are exempt from fasting to ensure no harm is done.

To learn more about Ramadan and what it means to the students who observe it, we spoke to two members of Otterbein’s Muslim Student Association (MSA): Hanan Hussain, the current president of the MSA, and Yasmeen Khafagy, former co-president of MSA and current student trustee of the Otterbein Board of Trustees.

How do you prepare for Ramadan?

Hanan: Ramadan is a month-long Islamic holiday that is celebrated by the Muslims — the month of the first revelation of the holy book Quran to the last prophet Mohamed (Peace be Upon Him). We fast every day during the lunar month (this year it is March 10-April 9) from sunrise to sunset. During fast, we cannot eat, drink, smoke, have sex, or any type of gratification. This month is about learning self-control and gratitude and appreciating what you have — feel hungry around the world, have self-control over consumerism. There is no preparation other than not eating prior to sunset, when we break the fast, and we do this collectively at the start of Maghrib prayer (sunset prayer). So prep wise, it is more spiritual than anything else.

Yasmeen: To prepare is more mental; you must commit yourself to wake up, keeping to your prayers, and devoting more time to your faith and practice. But you also have other obligations like work and school, so making sure that everything is prepared ahead of time, that means notifying faculty and managers that you may need breaks to pray or an extension on an assignment.

What does Ramadan mean to you?

Hanan: Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, making it mandatory to fast for 30 days. Therefore, the primary goal is to comply with and fulfill this pillar by fasting during Ramadan. However, it is also significant and cherished because it unites every Muslim, encouraging them to reflect, support one another, seek forgiveness, reconcile, give charity, and assist those in need.

Yasmeen: I think for me, Ramadan is the chance for us to really come together as a community and focus on our spirituality. We invite friends and families over to our homes to break fast with us, we spend hours at the masjid praying and catching up with one another, and it just feels good to know that we are all partaking in something so much bigger than ourselves.

What is your favorite part of the holy month?

Hanan: Personally, I love the month of Ramadan because it is a time for reading the Quran and praying in the mosque with the community. It is primarily about mastering self-control and spiritual cleansing, fostering a sense of collective worship within the community, and, of course, making my favorite dish with my family.

Yasmeen: Ramadan kind of pushes you into a particular routine and things are so community oriented. I love being able to spend more time with my family and friends during the holy month while we do the things that make us feel better like praying and eating. There is a comfort in being together.

What traditions are most important to you during this time?

Hanan: The most important tradition for me is the Tarawih prayer, which occurs after the fifth prayer of the day. People gather at the mosque and collectively pray for roughly 1-1.5 hours. This has to be my favorite part of the day when I am fasting.

Yasmeen: Every year we invite our extended family over for Iftar, which is when we break our fast, and vice versa. It is always so nice to see family and get to enjoy the night with my cousins.

What is iftar and do you celebrate on campus with friends and family?

Hanan: Iftar is the breaking of the fast, which involves refraining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. The meal to break the fast is what Iftar refers to.

We recently did have Iftar Night, where we catered from a Halal restaurant and hosted it in Roush Hall — the event was funded by Student Government and Faith and Spiritual Life. We occasionally have halaqa groups (not restricted to Ramadan) and during the lecture we learn more about fasting and reflect on the practices we are doing during fasting and after fasting.

Yasmeen: Iftar is when we break our fast, which is the same to the Arabic word for breakfast. I live off campus at home so I break fast with my family but I have invited friends over to my house to enjoy Iftar as well!

The MSA always hosts an Iftar night that I encourage all students to go to! If you missed this year’s Iftar you can still help out by participating in the Ramadan Food Drive with Columbus Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), a partnership I run through our Center for Student Engagement. There will be bins in the main academic buildings but if you can’t find them, all are welcome to email me at and we will make sure your donations get to the families CRIS serves!

Do you have a favorite dish or foods that you like to enjoy for Iftar?

Hanan: I have so many — my favorite dish and mostly made during Ramdan is samosa. The samosa is a triangular pastry stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables. It graces multicultural tables during the month of Ramadan and is almost a symbol of the month.

Yasmeen: I love sweets! My favorite food in Ramadan is a dessert called kunafeh and my personal favorite is kunafeh with cheese and pistachios sprinkled on top!