Just before the sun set last Friday, 10 students gathered in the ground floor Welsh common room and chatted with each other about their days. When the clock hit 7:36 PM, Maryam Ahmed, President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) announced that it was time to eat, and the Iftar (breaking fast) commenced. The catered dinner for that evening was pizza, and attendees chose from cheese or halal pepperoni.
Sundown on March 22 marked the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Muslims observing this holiday engage in spiritual reflection, communal prayer, and reading of the Qur’an. Many also fast from sunrise to sundown, which in Baltimore is about 14 hours on the first day and 15 hours when the month culminates at dusk on April 20, with the time increasing as the days get longer.
For Ahmed, this year marks the first time she’s “actually doing” Ramadan on campus. But she said that so far, it’s going smoothly.
“It feels a lot less like a real Ramadan than it does when I’m at home,” Ahmed said, citing a lack of community and engagement within the MSA, “But at the same time, I think I’m getting better at spiritually reconnecting because I’m by myself.”
The majority of students who attended Friday’s Iftar were international students from countries including Bangladesh, England, and Morocco, and as Goucher seeks to enroll more international students, the number of Muslim students on campus could potentially increase.
Maeba Jonas, Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, is in her second year at Goucher. She said that cultivating better support for Muslim students was one of her first priorities at Goucher, especially as the lunar calendar Islam follows moves Ramadan into the academic year.
Noah Moudarres ‘25 is originally from Syria, but lived in Turkey prior to coming to Goucher as an international student. He said that the first year was harder than the second, and expressed that the resources available now have improved from last year.
“Now, I just eat halal pepperoni pizza, not Arabic food or my mom’s cooking,” Moudarres said, “but the Muslim community has grown, and there’s more effort.”
Ahmed echoed this sentiment of missing home cooked meals with family and noted that during the last two years, she was one of the only people who wore a hijab on campus, but now there’s a few others. While there is no data on the current religious makeup of the student body, Goucher has begun to survey students for their religious and spiritual identity, starting with the current first-year class.
“At home I would go to the mosque a lot, and most mosques have dinner every night [for Ramadan], they provide it to you for free,” Ahmed said, “Here it’s been much more isolating. I mostly just eat by myself in my room.”
The dining hall closes at 8 PM during the week and 7:30 PM over the weekend, which creates a limited window for fasting students to get food when breaking fast, especially if they have night classes. However, students are able to take Mary Fisher meals to-go in green containers, or use meal swipes at Alice’s, which stays open until 2 AM.
For Abdul Siam ‘26, finding time to cook food, the closure of the dining hall, and limited halal options can be “really frustrating.” An international student from Bangladesh, Siam said navigating Ramadan at Goucher is “scary” compared to celebrations at home.
Last year, Alice’s was not open and Ramadan started later in the year, meaning the time to break fast was even later in the day, which created additional hardships for fasting students to access food.
“People want the dining hall to stay open later, but I know systematically, they can’t do that for the nine people who want it to be open,” said Ahmed, “Now because we have Alice’s, which I know doesn’t necessarily give you a good, hot meal, but that was one thing I was talking to Bon Appetit about… getting more food at Alice’s.”
Jonas and Ahmed said that they met with Bon Appetit to discuss menu expansions at Alice’s, and went grocery shopping to purchase snacks and food for students to pick up free of charge from the Chapel kitchen.
Another issue observing students face is keeping up with school work and dealing with professors who may not be understanding of how fasting impacts their energy, ability to focus, and schedule. Dedicating time to one’s spirituality, prayer, and reading of the Qur’an may feel impossible while managing a full course load.
“A lot of what I tried to do in my first year and continued again is educating faculty and staff about what Ramadan is… and how it can be observed differently by different students,” said Jonas. She said that how the holiday is understood in the US can look “very different” for international students, especially those from Muslim-majority countries where their academic calendar may be more accommodating.
“It would be very unexpected to have an exam on Christmas day, and then have to navigate that,” said Jonas, comparing how different holidays are catered to. Jonas said that “even just bringing some awareness to what the schedule looks like during the month of Ramadan” could help faculty support those who observe, particularly last year when Ramadan overlapped with exams.
Jonas gave a presentation at the December faculty meeting on changing the religious accommodation policy to be “less of an individual process” than what it is now. Instead, students would request needs through her, whether it be a full absence, or just needing to take a few minutes during class to break fast or pray. This system would closely resemble the system Athletics uses for sports-related absences, according to Jonas.
In addition to utilizing the Haebler Memorial Chapel for Jummah (Friday) prayer, a reflection room with prayer rugs and copies of the Qur’an has been permanently installed in room G44 in Julia Rogers, according to Jonas.
Students observing Ramadan are eligible to be reimbursed for travel expenses for the Eid-al-Fitr celebration. Ahmed, however, said that many of the mosques are at least 30 minutes away and as a busy student without her own car, she still finds it “difficult” to go.
Since Muslims are a minority at Goucher, Moudarres said that there’s a lack of knowledge regarding their practices, and said he has faced Islamophobia in the past that went unaddressed.
Jonas emphasized that she’s open to feedback, and encourages students to meet with her to discuss how their religiosity or spirituality can be better accommodated on campus, especially for Muslim students who want to weigh in on the upcoming Eid al-Fitr celebration, which marks the end of Ramadan on April 20.
“My wish for the other Muslims on Goucher’s campus is [to] just be more involved and advocate for themselves,” said Ahmed, who is unsure what MSA will look like after she graduates in May, “You need to advocate for yourself for Goucher to care, and it’s not that Goucher doesn’t care, it’s just that they don’t know that we’re here.”
Feature image of MSA members at Iftar by Amita Chatterjee.