Ramadan at GW

Muslim members of the GW community have been able to practice together while sharing their culture with both each other and their non-practicing peers.

March 29, 2024

Ramadan Dinner 2024

Students broke fast, and bread, at the Interfaith Iftar dinner put on by the Muslim Student Association and Division for Student Affairs on Monday night in the University Student Center. (Photos by William Atkins/GW Today)

Since March 10, Muslim students and community members at the George Washington University have joined Muslims worldwide in observance of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year marked by a holy period of fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Ramadan begins 10 to 12 days earlier each year, allowing it to fall in every season throughout a 33-year cycle. The reason it is considered holy is because it is believed to be the month where the Islamic holy book, the Quran, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Considered one of the five pillars of Islam and deeply personal to those in the Muslim community, the fasting period of Ramadan is an internationally recognized tradition of this month. From sunrise to sundown, those practicing are to abstain from food and drink, in addition to other personal sacrifices.

“The purpose of doing that is basically to practice self-discipline, self-control, making sacrifices and just being empathetic and putting yourself in the shoes of others who are less fortunate than you. It helps you recenter and be thankful for everything,” said GW first-year Columbian College of Arts and Sciences student Manal Tariq. “A lot of people use Ramadan as a time to improve themselves, both as Muslims and people in general.”

Tariq said that while Ramadan is very individual, it’s also very community oriented at the same time. The Atlanta area native has always celebrated with family and fondly remembers going to relatives' houses for meals at sunset and breaking their fast together.

Ramadan is rooted in family, and GW provides space for practicing students who are away from home—maybe for the first time—to capture that feeling of community. Various organizations hold events and dinners throughout the month to break fast together and participate in prayer and spirituality together.

Once such event was the Interfaith Iftar (the main meal of the fasting day) Dinner, held March 25 at the University Student Center (USC). A collaboration between the GW Muslim Student Association and the Division for Student Affairs, the meal featured traditional foods such as paneer, garlic naan, masala noodles and more.

More than 100 people filled USC’s Grand Ballroom for the event, and MSA president Raheel Abubakar said having space on campus that lets him practice is crucial to his college experience, especially since many practicing students are away from their Muslim communities and families in their hometowns.

“We really want to make sure that leaving home doesn’t mean leaving your religion or leaving your culture. It’s about finding it somewhere else, as well,” said Abubakar, a senior political science and criminal justice major from Baskin Ridge, New Jersey.

While sharing that community with one another is vital, sharing their culture with non-practicing students and peers is also important to many Muslim students. There were plenty of non-Muslim students partaking in the Iftar dinner on March 25. In addition to enjoying the cultural cuisine, they were able to see their Muslim student peers practice through prayer and listen to dialogue that included a keynote speech and question-and-answer session from Sheikh Shaker El Sayed, who discussed origins and traditions of Ramadan and Islam in general.

“There’s so much culture in the United States, and there are so many different religions, and I think it’s really important for us to have that connection with one another and grow and respect and appreciate everything about one another,” Abubakar said. “I think having interfaith programming allows us to see each other in moments of practice.”

Ramadan, which officially ends this year on April 9, and the visibility around it through events and practice marks a period where Muslim voices can be especially amplified, and their stories can be told and heard.