What it’s like observing Ramadan as a student

Kameron Abbason 22 March 2023
Lantern with moon and star details bathing a dark room in warm light

As Ramadan 2023 begins today, we speak to a former student about their experience balancing their faith and studies.

A whole new world

16th September 2007, my first day of uni begins. The buzz was there for Freshers’ week. So many exciting and endless possibilities to explore. Friends to make, new chapters are just beginning to be written. All the exciting food and drinks places to visit… Oh wait, It was also one week into Ramadan at the time so let’s scratch that part out. 

Having to explain that in my first few weeks was pretty daunting without wanting to appear antisocial or why I was exhausted every day. The good news is that you’re not alone even if it feels like that sometimes. There were also a lot of people who wanted to know more about it and asked lots of questions which makes you feel less alien. 

Three weeks to go and throwing myself into my uni work in the early days really helped define and structure me for the rest of the academic year. When everyone else was going for lunch or meeting for coffee, I got myself in the library and became familiar with the optimal study spots as well as things like where to find the journals. Not to brag but I definitely felt like I got ahead of my fellow students during this time…

Facebook was also sweeping the world at the time so there were groups of us that found each other and met to have a laugh and study together without worrying about drooling over someone else's food. Friends for life. I was also studying journalism so I spotted the opportunity to incorporate the whole experience into my first assignment which really enhanced my motivation. I also remember watching a movie called The Pursuit of Happiness - If you are ever feeling weak or lacking motivation, I would highly recommend it. 

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims to celebrate in honour of when the holy book, The Quran, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. 

The practice of what is known as ‘fasting’ takes place. This means refraining from food and drink during daylight hours. However, there is so much more to observe during this month which is often overlooked. 

The values of appreciation, discipline, charity, caring and love are at the heart of the month. It is a reminder of the suffering of others and those less fortunate than you. Spending time away from negative or selfish acts and achieving good deeds, helping others and being more spiritually aware are equally as important. 

When is Ramadan? 

So does Ramadan fall at a different time each year or are you just imagining that? Actually, it is different. The way the Islamic Calendar uses cycles of the moon is different to the Gregorian one. As a result, every year, Ramadan starts approximately 10 days earlier than previously. 

So as detailed in my experience, it was around the autumn time when the days were getting (slowly) shorter each evening. Let me tell you, nothing compares to that first bite at the end of a long day.

After the 30 days of fasting, there is a celebration known as Eid ul-Fitr. This is to mark the end of Ramadan and a joyous occasion of lots of food, gifts and dressing up.

Tips for fasting at uni

Ramadan is a personal journey of self-discovery each time and is different for anyone. Some find it easier than others and that’s okay as well. Even if you’re not Muslim, it doesn’t mean you can’t show support or discuss this with someone who is fasting. They will appreciate it more than you know. I still have non–Muslim friends who do a ‘fast’ in solidarity with me but keep water to make it slightly easier. 

Also, remember if you are travelling, pregnant or feeling unwell, you are exempt so don’t put yourself under unnecessary strain. There are ways to make it up in other ways. Here are some tips if you are fasting whilst studying: 

  • Check with your student union rep or university liaison to see what support is available if you’re struggling. Or there may even be events that will allow you to network and make new friends. 
  • Check with your university to see if there are any sessions you can attend online during this period. Conserving that energy helps massively. 
  • Make sure you eat and drink something before sunrise even if you don’t feel like eating at that time. The nutritional intake will keep you going for the day. 
  • Be sure to hydrate and drink plenty of water (recommended 1.5-2L) after the fast is open which will keep your body and mind healthy. 
  • As tempting as it is to reach for Just Eat every night, aim to make healthier choices that will pack your body full of the nutrients it needs. Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint. 

Most importantly, try to enjoy it. Remember, this is still a once-in-a-lifetime experience part of your university journey. Try not to spend it alone if you can help it and make memories opening your fast with your loved ones or friends which will stay with you for the rest of your life. Try cooking, sharing in the spirit and motivating yourself and others and still be your true self. You’ll be so proud of yourself at the end of it. 

Kameron Abbason 22 March 2023