A Muslim holiday on a Christian campus

Julie Torres

The room is small. The white walls are bare. On the carpet stand 10 Villanova students in prayer. But this room is not part of the church, and these students are not Catholic. They are Muslim. During the month of Ramadan, they gather in their newly established prayer room in Tolentine Hall, to uphold the beliefs and practices of their religion.

The ninth month of the lunar calendar marks the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims, the same month that the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, Muslims fast, beginning at dawn and ending during sunset.

Junior Safeer Bhatti describes a typical day for him during the month of Ramadan. “I wake up at about 4:30 a.m.,” Bhatti said. “I would perform prayers. Then, at about 4:50-ish I would begin eating. We have some sort of time limit before the sun would go up. So we have to eat as much as we can or want before that time.

“After that I can’t eat again,” he said. “No water. No gum. Nothing. At 4:30 p.m. I do my prayers and then I open the fast with a date. A date is significant because when Muhammad was alive all he ate were dates when he opened and closed fasts.”

Fasting forms a connection with God and encourages compassion, said Saima Karim, president of the Muslim Student Association.

“I am a bio major, so I am speaking as a bio major. In any science, you learn about theories, but you don’t know about it unless you practice it,” Karim said. “It’s the same thing with fasting. You hear about people that are starving all over world and you sympathize with them but you don’t really know what they are going through unless one day, at least for a few hours, you suffer through it yourself.”

This year, MSA has been working especially hard to ensure that there is a place for the Muslim community at Villanova. Bhatti became involved with the effort to establish a prayer room for Muslims on campus.

“Everyone had this huge concern that we have a prayer room on campus because our mosques are so far away,” Bhatti said. He made an appeal, which Campus Ministry responded to positively.

“It has been a tremendous convenience to every single Muslim student on campus,” Bhatti said. “They can come here for prayers. Before then some Muslims prayed in their room, some in their car, some prayed like I did in the library. Now, for the entire month of Ramadan, we can open our fasts here instead of somewhere else.”

Dining Services is also cooperating with MSA. They have agreed to provide food and beverages as well as donate dates the Muslim students eat to open their fasts.

In addition, Dining Services has instituted a breakfast program for Muslim students. Those students with a meal plan have the option of receiving their breakfast the night before, so that they may have something to eat before sunrise.

“Villanova is recognizing that there are Muslims on campus,” sophomore Syed Asad Safdar said. “They are trying to make us feel like we are part of the Villanova community.”