It's usually around this time that Muslim international students would go home and celebrate Ramadan with their families. Ramadan is a significant holiday for Muslims around the world. It's a month where Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. And it's called the "holy month" because it's a time where people are encouraged to do good deeds, help each other, and have gratitude for their family and friends.
Aisha Balogun is an international student from Nigeria and has been fasting for three weeks observing Ramadan. Balogun was excited because her graduation coincided with the tail end of Ramadan. That meant Balogun was supposed to celebrate twice as much.
"The plan was," she said, "I was looking into flights for my mom and two brothers back home, to also come here and spend graduation with me. And I was trying to time it in such a way [...] they come here towards the end of Ramadan, you know. Celebrate graduation with me and also celebrate Eid. That way we get to all celebrate it as a family."
But that's not happening this year due to COVID-19. "COVID has affected a lot of travel plans, a lot of just… yeah, plans to spend time with, I guess, larger family? 'cause I do have family here," Balogun said.
Instead of celebrating it with her extended family, Balogun is observing Eid with her two brothers and sister-in-law. She's not really complaining though, because she's not facing this pandemic alone. "Yeah, it's definitely helped living with them… and especially like you know, you have people to see on your day-to-day, versus just living alone or just being alone with all that's going on in the world," she said.
But Bilal Madjour is spending this Ramadan alone. He's an international student from Algeria. And unlike Aisha Balogun, Madjour doesn't have any family here. He was supposed to fly back home once finals were over to spend the rest of Ramadan together with his family. "But, due to COVID-19 right now, that didn't happen. So, my trip was canceled, and I had to stay here, away from the family," said Madjour.
Ramadan doesn't always fall at the same time every year. It occurs in the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is not the same as the western calendar.
Luckily, for the past few years, it has coincided with summer break, which is when Madjour usually goes back home anyway. This is a big opportunity for him to not only catch up with his loved ones but also to celebrate Eid together, which is the commemoration of the end of Ramadan.
"My family tradition after everybody is done with work or whatever they have during the day, we come together. I have a big family so there are groups of people cooking, people hanging out," said Madjour. "Because we cook a lot of food and different stuff, so it takes some time. So, whoever is helping the kitchen, does that right before the sunset. And the other group would probably be hanging around, or just like having fun together, waiting to break our fast."
And when it's time for iftar, which is when they break their fast at the end of the day, everybody comes together, sits at the dinner table, and eats way too much food.
"[Talking about it] makes me miss it more right now," he said.
So to help keep his mind off of what he's missing, Madjour has been staying busy working and studying from home and spending more time with his roommates, who are also observing Ramadan. Since Madjour is the president of the Muslim Students Association at UW, he's able to help the Muslim community on campus plan ways to celebrate Ramadan together, especially when one of the goals of Ramadan is to help people in the community. Since they're not able to leave, they're helping in Laramie.
"We're looking into doing a fast-a-thon, and every single person who fasts would pitch and donate into a cause that we're going to look for here in Laramie. So they donate the money that they saved for eating lunch or breakfast," Madjour said.
His idea is to help some of these students who don't have a car or are too busy to get food for iftar, to organize a delivery service like DoorDash. Except, it's run by volunteers from the community who are willing to cook and send food packages to the Muslim community in town.
He admits that he's a little bit nervous organizing such an elaborate initiative during a pandemic. The last week of Ramadan starts this Sunday, May 17, and Madjour doesn't have much time to make sure people in the Muslim community will have access to food. But he's hopeful.
"I feel like it is gonna be good and people will like it and participate in it," Madjour said. "In these circumstances, it's a little different. I have never seen that before, so we'll see."
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Naina Rao, at email@example.com.