Cal Poly students adapted to California’s stay-at-home order throughout the month of Ramadan, culminating in celebration for Eid al-Fitr May 23, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast.”
Ramadan is a holy month and devotion during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is typically marked by community gatherings and sharing of meals at sundown. Social distancing guidelines have prevented these traditions.
Industrial engineering senior Nora Kabbani said Ramadan this year posed new challenges. In addition to refraining from eating or drinking from dawn to sunset, Kabbani was unable distract herself by leaving the house to seek entertainment.
However, Kabbani said Ramadan also posed an opportunity for growth and self-reflection.
“Ramadan teaches self-control and guides you to reflect on your privilege,” Kabbani said. “You become more aware of how much you complain, how much you buy, and the privilege of food, water and money at your disposal.”
Kabbani grew up in a Palestinian-Muslim family who prepared traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. Kabbani returned home to Bellevue, Washington for a portion of Ramadan and enjoyed preparing meals with her family. About three hours before sunset, Kabbani’s family would begin preparing an elaborate meal.
Iftar, the meal eaten after sunset which breaks the daily fast, traditionally begins with eating a single date, praying and drinking water. Afterwards, a family begins eating the meal, typically beginning with soup and later progressing to rice and stews.
Upon returning to San Luis Obispo for an internship, Kabbani said fasting became more difficult.
“It’s easier to fast when you are with others who are fasting,” Kabbani said. “It was hard to come back to people who were eating.”
During Ramadan, Kabbani often connected and shared meals with friends who are Muslim, too. This tradition was not possible due to California’s stay-at-home order.
Kabbani said she was challenged mentally, but still persevered and created a meaningful month of fasting.
“It’s a mindset,” Kabbani said. “Having that time of fasting – you learn about your body’s capabilities and what makes you strong.”
Child development senior Nadeen Eliyan has not spent the past few years of Ramadan with her family, but said there is a strong Muslim community in San Luis Obispo. During Ramadan, Eliyan frequently connects with friends who are Muslim, often sharing meals together.
“A very American Muslim tradition is to go to Denny’s at 3 a.m. and eat breakfast together before fasting,” Eliyan said. “This community aspect was missing [due to California’s stay-at-home order] and took a lot of the spirit out of Ramadan for me.”
Eliyan said food is one of the most important aspects of her culture, as cooking is a primary way families show love to one another.
“In Arab culture, we don’t really express verbal love,” Eliyan said. “My grandma always knows certain dishes I like and wants to make those for me.”
During Ramadan, Eliyan’s mom sent a few dishes to San Luis Obispo from Berkeley, California with one of Eliyan’s friends. One of these dishes was dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves. Eliyan said her upbringing has shaped her relationship with food and how she expresses love to friends.
Since mosques and other houses of worship were previously closed in San Luis Obispo, Kabbani celebrated Eid with Eliyan and her roommates, gathering for a special brunch after 30 days of fasting.
Kabbani said while celebrating Eid during a pandemic was not an ideal circumstance, she enjoyed sharing a meal with friends.
“We know the value and worth of eating together,” Kabbani said.
Eliyan said gathering for a meal with friends to celebrate Eid was nostalgic of previous celebrations at home.
“It felt good to share my love and culture with my roommates who may not get to experience that otherwise,” Eliyan said.