Editor’s Note April 23, 2023 at 11 p.m.: A previous version of this article used the incorrect title for the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.
On March 22, the Islamic community began observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. For Muslim students on Bowdoin’s campus, this is a time for reflection, religious education and community building that plays into the work of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on increasing visibility and forming community on campus.
This year, Co-President Eisa Rafat ’25 felt that Ramadan was particularly successful, due both to the influx of Muslim students on campus in recent years and the efforts of the Ramadan Accommodations Working Group, which includes members of the MSA, dining management, faculty and representatives from the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.
Ramadan observation typically involves fasting from sunrise to sundown. The MSA helps practicing members manage this altered schedule.
“I’m actually really happy about how Ramadan has been going, mainly because the accommodations have come through and the support of the College has really been there,” Rafat said. “The difference is not only that I have options now, but it’s the message that’s being sent. It’s the idea that Muslim students are seen, and that really changes things.”
Because many Muslim students were fasting during traditional dining hours, take-out boxes were made available to Muslim students in Thorne dining hall. For breakfast, food was stored in 30 College Street to accommodate students who needed to eat before dining halls were open.
Rafat said that getting the College to implement these dining accommodations took some effort, which emphasized for MSA members the importance of opening up a dialogue around these and similar issues.
“You just have to really remind people that, regardless, I need to eat, and this is your job, and you are gonna find out the solution to this,” Rafat said.
Beyond dining accommodations, the MSA reached out to its members to let them know that they could reschedule academic obligations if they interfered with their observation of Ramdan.
Oliver Goodrich, the Director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and a member of the accommodation group, said the Accomodations Working Group’s goals were twofold.
“The goal was both to come up with more adequate Ramadan accommodations, but I think to some degree, at a deeper level, it was just to bring everyone to the table to build relationships, to build a deeper sense of trust and understanding and to do some religious literacy and cultural competence around the experience of Muslim students on our campus,” Goodrich said.
Strengthening visibility for Muslim students has been a primary feature of the MSA’s Ramadan initiatives and is central to Rafat’s own goals for the association.
“When I first got here, I didn’t know that an MSA existed. So we formulated one—me and some of the other people in my class. And then it was funny because there actually was an MSA the whole time,” he said.
Rafat credits the Covid-19 pandemic for his confusion but sees his grade’s arrival on campus as an inflection point for the number of Muslim students on campus.
“I think my year was definitely a huge moment for MSA just because of numbers. There were more Muslim students in our year than in the past,” Rafat said.
With the newly admitted Class of 2027, the MSA looks forward to even more potential to build community for Muslim students.
“We just met a bunch of prospective students that are also Muslim that are going to be coming. All of a sudden, you’re really seeing your impact. You’re really seeing some change and there’s no better feeling, honestly.” Rafat said.
Beyond increasing visibility, the MSA is focused on building community, especially with a relatively small number of Muslim students on campus compared to other religious affinity groups.
“The MSA knows we’re not going to win in the numbers game, right? So our mission changed to really cultivating relationships with other Muslims on campus and having a space for Muslims to come and meet other Muslims,” Rafat said.
Tomorrow, the MSA will host an Eid celebration in Lancaster Lounge in Moulton Union. The celebration will be an interfaith event to mark the end of Ramadan, and Rafat hopes it will increase Muslim visibility on campus.
Students from Bates College and Colby College will also be in attendance, and the event will mark the first time the MSA has thrown an Eid celebration since the onset of the pandemic.
Rafat encouraged students and members of the Brunswick community to attend the celebration.
“We’re excited to bring Eid to campus and share this experience of good food and good clothing and great vibes with everybody,” he said. “Bring your friends! It’ll be great.”