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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Muslim students at UW come together to observe Ramadan

Campus organizations support students, build community through meals, events
Allie Serterides
Students observe Ramadan on UW campus, 2023

The holy month of Ramadan started at sunset Sunday, March 10, beginning a month of communal fasting, prayer and self-reflection for observant University of Wisconsin students and Muslims around the world.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims observe the month by fasting daily from dawn to sundown. Ramadan will end the evening of April 9, celebrated with a feast called Eid-al-Fitr April 10.

Observant Muslims eat the pre-dawn meal of Suhoor before the daily fast and an evening meal, Iftar.


Rafey Choudhry said he remembers his first Ramadan at UW. Like many freshmen and international students, he had never observed Ramadan without his family, and had to learn how to find his community on campus.

Now a senior and president of the Muslim Student Association at UW, Choudhry centers community building in his planning for Ramadan.

To provide opportunities for students to break their fast together, MSA is partnering with student organizations on campus to host Iftars on campus every Monday through Thursday of Ramadan, except during spring break — the week of March 25.

Some partners include the Pakistani Students Association, the Arab Student Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, Alpha Lambda Mu, Alpha Lambda Ro, the African Students Association, the Somali Student Association and the North African Student Association. Middle Eastern North African Cultural Programming within the Multicultural Student Center is also hosting and partnering to host Iftars throughout the month.

“[Fasting] is a silent form of worship,” Choudhry said. “You’re doing it for yourself and your own discipline. But once we all come together at night it’s like we went through the whole day together. Going through a more intense experience like that with other people is what makes it feel like a community because you’re all in it together.”

Last year, MSA provided meals for around 150 students per Iftar, but Choudhry said he expects this year’s numbers to be higher as the Muslim community on campus continues to grow. This year, MSA is preparing to feed between 175 to 200 people each night.

Iftars for the upcoming week will be posted on the MSA Instagram, along with where to find Iftar RSVP forms. MSA will also provide Suhoor for the last ten nights of Ramadan.

Ramadan is also a time of increased worship and charity. Each night, Muslim students will gather for a prayer before they break their fast. According to Choudhry, the month of fasting and increased worship can teach meaningful lessons.

Your intention of fasting is almost as important as fasting itself, and intention is really important in our lives,” Choudhry said. “Ramadan is a time to self-reflect. We use fasting as a way to train ourselves, create new habits and build new things to work towards. It’s a month of self improvement, but you’re doing that self improvement with other people.”

Student organizations affiliated with the Multicultural Student Center are using event grants to fund Iftars and other events throughout the month of Ramadan. The rest of the funding comes from funds donated by individuals and local mosques.

Beyond hosting Iftars and Suhoors, MSA brings students together by hosting events and inviting speakers to campus during Ramadan. Sheikh Umair Haseeb will speak at the Islamic Center of Madison March 14. Haseeb studied at Al-Azhar University, one of the biggest centers of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world located in Egypt. Choudhry said MSA tries to bring speakers to campus who can connect with students.

“Ramadan itself creates its own event,” Choudhry said. “We just wanna provide some spiritual boosts here and there.

MSA is also hosting its yearly Orphan Sponsorship Dinner with Islamic Relief USA March 17 at Union South in Varsity Hall. The event encourages attendees to commit to their Zakat — the third pillar of Islam mandating Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity. This year’s speaker is Imam Suhaib Webb, an American Muslim imam who converted from Christianity to Islam in 1992. In 2022, the dinner raised enough money to sponsor 100 orphans around the world for a year.

Though events planned by student organizations throughout the month build community, a challenging part of being Muslim on UW’s campus during Ramadan can be receiving academic accommodations. 

Despite campus-wide policy, Choudhry said it can still be challenging to get accommodations for Ramadan, and it often falls on the students to advocate for themselves during midterm season.

UW’s religious observances policy prohibits instructors from scheduling exams or mandatory academic requirements on days when a substantial number of students may be absent due to religious observances. According to the policy, students should notify instructors within the first two weeks of the semester/term of the specific conflicting dates. Any student with a conflict between an academic requirement and any religious observance must be given an alternative.

UW instructors received a memo in January, stating the dates of Ramadan and outlining UW’s religious observance policy. But still, Choudhry said it can be frustrating explaining what Ramadan is to instructors when, globally, it is a widely celebrated holiday.

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“I understand the Muslim population on this campus is very small,” Choudhry said. “But this is the biggest time of the year for us, and professors should know what it is at this point.”

Choudhry said MSA has been working with the university to build a more formalized system through which instructors are thoroughly aware of what Ramadan is and what accommodations students may need. The group invited the Dean of Students and other leaders at UW to attend an Iftar this year.

University Housing is providing Halal certified meal services to accommodate students observing Ramadan. Dates — eaten before Iftar to break the fast, following Muslim tradition — will be available at all markets to break the fast. 

The Center for Interfaith Dialogue created a map logging prayer and reflection spaces on campus. Choudhry said other than the prayer space at Union South, it can be difficult to find large prayer spaces on campus for when students break their fast at sunset each night.

According to the UW Interfaith Instagram, the Islamic Center of Madison, located at 21 North Orchard Street, hosts Taraweeh (special Ramadan prayers) and two Jummah (Friday) prayers per week.

As the Muslim community prepares for the observance of their holy month, Choudhry said he wishes everyone could experience the energy and joyousness Ramadan brings.

“It boosts the spiritual energy in your soul,” Choudhry said. “We are really proud of this month. I encourage other people to come, even if you’re doing a half day fast or not fasting at all. I would rather have people come and see what goes on, because it is really beautiful in my opinion.”

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