Supporting international students observing Ramadan during COVID-19

Student smiling and sitting on steps outside campus

Supporting international students observing Ramadan during COVID-19

On April 12, Muslims around the world will begin to observe the month of Ramadan, many of them international students in colleges and universities. As well as a time of fasting, reflection and prayer, Ramadan is for these students an annual reminder of the need for empathy for those who are less fortunate and of a common bond between all who observe the fast between dawn and sunset.

The word Ramadan, which means “scorching heat” in Arabic, marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The exact dates of Ramadan change each year because the lunar Islamic calendar follows the phases of the moon. This year, Ramadan starts today (April 12) and will end on Tuesday, May 11.

The customary ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ and ‘Ramadan Kareem’ greetings reflect the most sacred month in Islamic culture. But in 2021 it will once again be a different experience for Muslim students and teachers. As well as fasting, praying, engaging in humanitarian activities and reflection, the community element of Ramadan will need to be expressed in ways which do not contravene the restrictions on gathering indoors, which persist in many parts of the world.

Ramadan Mubarak

Manoj Shetty, Chief Revenue Officer at Study Group shares his own message to Muslim students and staff:

“Ramadan Mubarak to all who are observing Ramadan at this time. On behalf of Study Group, we wish you and your family and friends a happy and blessed holy month.

In a global higher education context, we appreciate that the past year has been unexpected for international students. Having to adapt to blended learning and socialising with peers in a virtual environment rather than face-to-face is not the anticipated student experience.

Although this year, COVID-19 is disrupting Ramadan observances across the world, our aim is to ensure that our International Study Centres have virtual engagement programmes in place. As an organisation that prioritises student wellbeing first and foremost, we are aware that observing and celebrating a significant religious festival, such as Ramadan, largely virtually due to lockdown restrictions in different parts of the world, maybe challenging for international students.

However, we want students observing Ramadan to feel supported and able to come together with other Muslims to share common experiences, reflections, and insights, as well as traditions such as iftar, Eid and most importantly, to feel part of a caring community."

Observing Ramadan this year

Gathering before or after the fast is a time of precious memories to many Muslims. Yet this year the traditional joyful reunions with loved ones, especially when the fast is broken during the Suhoor (meal before sunrise) and Iftar (meal after sunset) will once again need to take place for many simply with their own households or with families connecting online.

In a normal year, after a day of fasting from dawn until dusk, Muslims gather to eat and drink with family and friends. Pre-pandemic, communal prayer and shared reading of the Qur’an would also be common.

So how will students far from home celebrate this year?

One example of how students are being helped maintain a sense of coming together and of community during Ramadan 2021 is to be found at Study Group’s International Study Centre at the University of Durham.

Sophie Holland-Francis, Student Support Coordinator at the Study Centre explains:

“Since we moved to blended learning course delivery because of the pandemic, we have introduced a virtual ‘Ramadan Support Network’ for international students who are observing Ramadan here in the UK or in their home country.

As part of the virtual Ramadan Support Network, international students are invited to join a bespoke Microsoft team group to engage with staff and previous students. In fact, this year, one of our student ambassadors is leading the network.

This unique online support forum is a great way to enable our students to share hint and tips about the best ways to observe Ramadan. It also allows students to ask questions and support each other by posting messages of motivation.

In addition to the Ramadan Support Network, our Centre Director, Dr Ismail Musa, hosts an assembly with students who will be observing Ramadan and issues lots of information, advice, and guidance, on how to be a good student during Ramadan.”

Dr Ismail Musa, Centre Director at the Study Centre, talks about the Ramadan assembly for students:

"The Durham University International Study Centre Ramadan Assembly is an opportunity for us to go through with our students what we call the “2 Ps”. 

The first “P”  is how to prepare the body and mind, mentally, physically and spiritually for the holy month.  This includes describing the health advice from the NHS in regards to fasting the month of Ramadan, going through local prayers times (start and end of fasting) and available local support from masjids (mosques).

The second “P” is how to effectively plan time and study work during the month of Ramadan, to ensure that there is plenty of opportunities for studying, completing assignments and for worship in this holy month. 

Due to the pandemic, there is a COVID-19 feel to the session, this year, to incorporate rulings in regards to testing, vaccination and lockdown whilst fasting. The session ended with a Q/A section to ensure that any worries or questions are answered."

International student at Study Group’s Durham University International Study Centre, Mustafa Kamran, an international student at the Centre comments:

“Ramadan is the most blessed month of the Islamic year. We get close to God and learn self-control by fasting and praying. We thank God for his blessings and bounties every day during Iftar.

Observing fast and praying during this month is quite challenging, particularly during higher education when you are away from your home and family. This experience is unexplainable and is one of its kind.

The Durham University International Study Centre Online Ramadan Support Network provides an extra layer of support and comfort for students and ascertains that they are not alone during their Iftar, Suhoor and Prayers in this blessed month.

This makes a lovely group of students which then celebrates the Eid together.”

Ramadan concludes with Eid al-Fitr on May 11. Traditionally a major celebration including a shared feast, the giving of gifts and support for charitable causes, this year students will mark this landmark with a deeper sense of community and shared humanity, and a common hope that there will once again be celebrations in person in the years to come.