A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Being a Muslim student living at Leiden obviously brings a unique experience of celebrating the holy month of Ramadan in abroad! In fact, it could be one of your wonderful moments during Leiden University life when you know that you are fasting for around 19 hours (without having any solid and liquid food) at one hand, on the other hand attending classes, studying at Library being overburdened with assignment and Thesis works!
For a Muslim, the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of Islamic lunar calendar) bears holiness due to this month’s religious significance. Muslims worldwide do fasting (Sawm) during whole month to commemorate the first revelation of the holy book Quran to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) according to Islamic belief. The Muslims observe this holy month by dividing into three segments. The first ten days of Ramadan are days of Rahmat (mercy), the second period of ten days is for Maghfirat (forgiveness), and the final period of ten days (or nine days) is for Najat (seeking refuge from Hellfire).
Muslims pray for Rahmat, Maghfirat and Nazat to Almighty Allah by pushing their limits through fasting from dawn to until sunset by refraining from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual activities. The reason is to fight (Zihad) with inner devils of the souls which makes a Muslim more peaceful, tolerable, respectful towards other beliefs, hardworking, determined and spiritually a sound person.
For me, it is a new kind of challenge. Because I have been raised and grown up in a Muslim majority country. So, as I was surrounded by such religious environment, I definitely got influenced by that religious environment and grown up the habit of following Islamic rituals. But Islam does not say that we should become Muslim because we are born in a Muslim family and blindly follow it! Rather Islam says that we should understand and realize the teachings of Islam first, and then we should follow. This is like to become a Muslim by choice, not by chance!
So, for me this time is the litmus test of proving whether I am a Muslim by chance or by Choice! Initially I was so tensed about the 19 hours difference between sun rise and sun set during summer! Because it is the biggest challenge not to eat and drink anything from 3 am to 10 pm while attending classes, doing assignments and studying at the same time! In Bangladesh (my home country), it is easy because everyone is doing the same, so the peer pressure works. Here in Leiden, almost all of my friends are from other faiths; so whatever I will follow, it is completely my choice which also depends on my mental and physical strength!
Another biggest challenge is to cook food during Ramadan for Iftar Time (the evening meal which we take to break fasting when sun goes down). Because, after being busy whole day, it is not possible to cook, nor it is possible to buy heavy meal every day from shops. So I was tensed how to solve this Issue. The great news is, in Leiden, there are two big mosques which serve Iftar during whole Ramadan for free! One is the Islamitisch Centrum Imam Malik and another one is Moskee Al hijra.
For the convenience of Muslims who are fasting, both the mosques serve Iftar during whole month for Free! In fact it is the general culture worldwide that mosques always provide free Iftar to honor the Muslims who are fasting and the whole community engages into this process. It means having Iftar together in mosque instead of having it at home. Because most of the Islamic rituals are done or celebrated together because they are based on holistic approach which promote social bonding. So, every afternoon, I take Iftar along with Muslim brothers and sisters living in Leiden from all around the world. And the quality of Iftar is very good. Every day we get to taste different recipes, which are mostly Arabian cuisine (because these two mosques are mainly funded and run by Arabian and North-African Muslim communities). The Iftar is full of fruits, breads, vegetables, meats, milks, warm drinks etc. So, any Muslim student at Leiden does not need to have meal at his/her dorm/room at all during the whole Ramadan. Just go to mosque, and enjoy Iftar with all other Muslim brothers and sisters. Moreover, non-Mulim brothers and sisters are most welcome to see our rituals. In fact, I already took two of my non-Muslim friends to Iftar and they were warmly greeted by all other Muslims there!
Also, as plenty of foods are served in Iftar, there are surplus of food every day. So, I take fruits, juice, milk, bread every day to home which I eat at Sahri time (the meal at Dawn, before the sun rises). So, I found that I do not need to buy any food during the whole month! Pretty good for me!
Lastly, I made some very good Muslim friends here in Leiden whom I did not know before! I hope this friendship will continue and someday we will meet again after I am back to Bangladesh this August. Also, I am glad to know myself that I am a Muslim by choice, not by chance. And thanks to this Leiden city for accommodating two big mosques which shows that Leiden is a place of cultural and religious harmony that you will not find in many cities around the world!
May Allah keep all of the safe and sound. Ramadan Mubarak!