Graduation during Ramadan: How Muslim fourth-years are preparing

Many Muslim students will abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset

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Muslim students will fast during Final Exercises May 18 and 19, which will take place on the Lawn from sunrise to sundown. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

As Muslims around the world began fasting May 6 for Ramadan, many Muslim students at the University will also be fasting during Final Exercises May 18 and 19. Final Exercises may end up leaving fasting Muslim students and their families outside in the heat for extended periods of time.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the lunar calendar, where Muslims are expected to abstain from drinking or eating from sunrise to sunset. 

As students and their families fasting for Ramadan will abstain from sunrise to sunset, those in the larger departments and professional schools could potentially wait outside for hundreds of graduating students to be recognized. Many smaller department ceremonies are held indoors and take roughly an hour or less. 

Mazzen Shalaby, second-year Batten student and president-elect of the Muslim Students Association, spoke about his previous graduation experiences during Ramadan as well as his expectations for this year’s final exercises while fasting.

“It will be brutal,” Shalaby said. “I know I graduated from high school during Ramadan, and it was brutal sitting through a five hundred person graduating class, and for commencement in college, it will be even larger.” 

When asked about the process for preparing for a final exercises during Ramadan, Shalaby outlined the preparation process, which is limited to altering early-morning breakfast and apparel.

“It’s difficult, obviously there’s not a ton you can do, going off of my experience,” Shalaby said. “When you wake up for breakfast that morning at 4 a.m., you can drink extra glasses of water, trying to make sure everyone has hats and stuff. Trying to find spots in the shade is difficult though when it’s outside in open areas.”

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Medical student Syed Ahmad commented on previous experience volunteering during graduation.

“Since many people my age have been fasting for years now, helping out at the graduation ceremony wasn't too bad though,” Ahmad said. “For my own graduation, when more time will be spent outdoors, listening to speakers, etc., I can see how this may a more tiring event.”

Ahmad also highlighted the social pressures that come with fasting during final exercises, particularly with the celebrations which are often held in the following hours. 

“Recently, I had a conversation with my friends about how there may be food receptions at graduation for our different majors … and what we would be doing there since we would be fasting,” Ahmad said. “We talked about just going there to socialize and hoping circumstances don't arise in which we are awkwardly pressured to take food for ourselves.”

Ahmad also mentioned family concerns over the approximate hour between the graduation ceremony and breaking their fast — around 8 p.m. Days for fasting will continue to get longer as the calendar moves toward the summer solstice June 21. 

“Another concern was raised about what our families would do during the time between our ceremony and the graduation dinner (near 8pm) … since we would be fasting, excessive walking around, sightseeing, going to restaurants, would not be an option,” Ahmad said. 

Ahmad noted that the MSA’s annual graduation banquet  would be very beneficial, especially for family members who had traveled long distances to see their students graduate. 

“The MSA has a graduation banquet each year, and this year (and past year during Ramadan), we had it at a time so we could break our fast together,” Ahmad said. “This was very beneficial especially for the families that traveled from long distances.”

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Al Ahmed, graduate Education student and outgoing MSA president, also commented on the MSA’s banquet and how it allows friends and family of graduates to break their fast together.

“This year will be the second iteration of it,” Ahmed said, “And I’m really looking forward to it! Last year, I was organizing it. This year, I’ll be on the other end. It’ll definitely be a little challenging getting through the days but at least we won’t be alone!” 

Both Ahmed and Ahmad listed ways for Muslim students to prepare for graduation, such as eating more food during the pre-dawn meal or taking a nap following the event. 

“We are expected to (more or less) go about our daily routine in Ramadan (if it is still reasonable),” Ahmad said. “Thus, we would take steps to make sure we don’t get tired, but for the most part, we would not have too much of a change in our approach to graduation.”

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Catherine Spear, Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights Associate Vice President, commented that the office “has not received any religious accommodation requests for Finals Exercises at this time.” 

Pam Higgins, Executive Director of Major Events, said that the University will be providing live-streaming of both valedictory and final exercises online, remote viewing locations — including Newcomb Ballroom and Theatre, Gilmer Hall, Culbreth Theatre and Alumni Hall —  and tenting over the north plaza of the Rotunda to provide shade. 

“For the school and department ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, many are inside,” Higgins said. “For those that are outside, they vary in length. Most are an hour or less. The longer ceremonies held outside would be the ones on the Lawn and the McIntire Amphitheatre (there are concessions nearby), Darden (where they have indoor rooms available for viewing the ceremony), and the Law School.”

Though drinking water is not permitted while fasting, Higgins also commented that “for the graduating students, we provide complimentary bottled water in the assembly areas on Saturday and Sunday. For guests attending the ceremonies, water will be available for sale at concession stands on all three days." 

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