“For me, it’s a time when you empty your stomach to feed your soul.” Iman Albertini (20) describes what Ramadan means for her. “The definition of the holy month of Ramadan is unique to each Muslim”, she states. The French-Senegalese student of Arts and Culture uses this period to ‘recharge her batteries’ by getting closer to her faith.

Similarly, Spanish-Algerian Communications and Media student Anaïs Perez Nibouche (19) takes it as a reflection upon herself: “I try to get introspective: do I like the kind of person that I am, do I like the people I surround myself with, the lifestyle that I’m leading?” For both students, Ramadan is a quite personal and sacred experience.

Iftar table

Both students find the beginning difficult: “The first three days are the hardest, especially when you have a lot of schoolwork and need to focus”, says Iman. Anaïs also struggles with this: “Cooking for myself and cleaning after a long day of working or studying is quite challenging.”

But the hardest part for both students is being away from their families. “Sharing that feeling of breaking the fast with my family at the iftar table, that’s what I miss”, says Iman. “Talking to my family helps in those moments because I know they’re going through the same thing.” While Anaïs explains the importance of self-control in these times: “Fasting does become harder when you’re away because you’re actually doing it for yourself and not because you’re with family, which shows a lot of self-discipline and how strong faith can be.”

‘Not even water?!’

Ramadan-iftar-food-Femke Legué
Image credit: Femke Legué

One question both Iman and Anaïs have received many times by their non-muslim friends was ‘You can’t even drink water?’. “People are usually not surprised by the non-eating part because it’s much more present in our lives”, says Iman. “People often do things like juice cleanses or intermittent fasting, but not drinking water is a big part of Ramadan that is often forgotten.”

Anaïs sometimes gets questions that make her feel quite criticised: ‘Does fasting actually help?’, ‘But why do you fast?’, or ‘Isn’t not eating bad for you?’ which have made her feel quite criticised. “Giving explanations can be intimidating at times, justifying why I’m fasting, or why I’m not fasting at a specific time. It’s a very personal thing and you have to be delicate about it”, she says. Then she adds: “It becomes more about the way they ask the questions rather than the question itself, instead they could ask ‘How is fasting helpful?’.” For her, the tone of the question determines whether it’s coming from a genuine place of curiosity or judgment.

On the same journey

“In Senegal, a lot of muslims look forward to Ramadan, and the first day is always very exciting”, says Iman. Ramadan becomes a national celebration: “In a country where 85 percent of the population is muslim, it becomes quite integrated into daily life.” A lot of shops, restaurants and even schools close early. “That makes it so much easier because you know that everyone else is on the same journey.”

Anaïs recalls a memory from her Ramadans spent in Spain: “I remember my father would wake me up for suhoor (the meal eaten before dawn, eds.). Now I have to pull myself out of bed to eat before sunrise, or else I will be starving and dehydrated the whole day.” Although the family domain is absent, Anaïs has found a good, supportive community to do iftars with, including mostly non-muslim friends of hers, which she appreciates a lot.

Friday is Eid-al-Fitr, which would usually be a time of celebration with family for Iman and Anaïs. But since they are away, neither has any remarkable plans. “I may treat myself to a restaurant with friends”, says Iman.

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