Khalil Sultani sitting on a rock at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
Khalil Sultani is one of many Muslim students at the University of Nebraska Lincoln who balance fasting with studying during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Khalil Sultani.

Pushing your mind to focus when your body hasn’t had any food or water all day is a difficult task, one that Muslim college students have to do daily throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Ramadan is a month-long practice dedicated to spiritual self-growth and challenging one’s body and mind through fasting. Muslims fast from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset and spend their days on spiritual practices such as praying. 

This year, Ramadan fell in April, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, starting on April 1 through May 1. Khalil Sultani, a senior civil engineering major at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said April is when the majority of his exams and finals are taking place. 

“It’s tough to focus on studying when you have no energy,” Sultani said. “Your brain takes longer to process things and everything seems harder.” 

Saahil Niaz, another UNL Muslim student who participates in Ramadan, said he too has struggled with focusing on schoolwork while fasting. 

“I don’t get as much motivation when I don’t have food in my stomach,” said Niazi, who is a full-time student with a full-time job. “Working during the day has gotten ten times harder. From getting headaches, getting hungry, feeling nauseous, it’s hard.” 

He said the biggest physical challenge of Ramadan is having to wake up in the middle of the night to eat, then try to get some sleep before having to wake up at 7 a.m. for class or work. 

“Having to wake up at five means I only get about four hours of sleep,” he said. “Plus, with a student’s schedule, it’s tough to find time during the day to take a nap or relax because I have classes back to back. There is no time to sleep, I don’t have any breaks between work, I just work nonstop.” 

Niazi, who is studying pre-health, said most days he studies on campus until 10 ten at night. Due to Ramadan, he had to dramatically adjust his study schedule. 

“I don’t get the energy to motivate myself to work as hard while I’m fasting as I do during the night when I’m not,” Niazi said. “This is why I stay up during the night now. I feel like I study way better, it’s pretty effective.” 

There are currently no special accommodations from professors or UNL for Muslim students who practice Ramadan, but that is something both Sultani and Niazi said they would like to see. 

“The biggest thing is that there are a lot of back-to-back exams and assignments,” Sultani said.  “Having them spaced out better would be very helpful.” 

Niazi said accommodations from the university could be a way to help the Muslim student population and ensure fairness. 

“I think it would be fairer to the students if we got some sort of accommodations because a lot of students are going through the same struggles that I am in terms of fasting and being a student,” he said. “I think the accommodations would even the playing field and make it easier for Muslim students.” 

Due dates coinciding with Eid, on May 1 this year, is another concern for Muslim students. Sultani said he would appreciate it if professors did not schedule exams close to Eid, the holiday that marks and celebrates the end of Ramadan. 

“When exams or assignments are due closer to the end of Ramadan, during Eid, it’s tough,” he said. “Most of that time is meant to be spent with family and friends. So balancing studying, working and other stuff along with that will be difficult.”

Muslim students recognize that those who do not observe the month of Ramadan may not be aware of what it entails, but they believe there needs to be more awareness around the month so that their practices are respected and known. 

“We don’t need a lot of accommodations, but if something comes up, having people aware of the month and being willing to work with you would be assuring,” Sultani said. 

Despite the difficulties, Ramadan is a special time that means a lot to Muslims. Sultani noted control is one of the biggest purposes of Ramadan. 

“The whole point of Ramadan is for those who fast to control themselves, which means living life as normal,” Sultani said. “You learn to control your feelings, control your behavior. That’s the bigger point.” 

For Niazi, Ramadan is all about sacrifice and spirituality. 

“Ramadan is about sacrificing your most required needs, food and water, for the sake of Allah (God),” he said. “It’s a really beautiful, sacrificial thing for a human. God doesn’t need this from humans, it just shows the dedication to worship.” 

Being a full-time student and fasting is challenging, but Sultani said being able to still get his schoolwork done is rewarding. 

“I think it’s very fulfilling knowing that I can do this and be successful in schoolwork and everything else despite the fact that I really don’t have any energy throughout the whole day,” he said. 

Sultani said he has developed a way to adjust his life to the month. 

“Dedicate time for everything, whether that’s time to eat or be with family and friends; do prayers; reflect on life; or do your homework,” he said. “Keep it balanced.” 

Niazi also said he sees Ramadan as a fulfilling time to balance all aspects of his life. 

“I feel like I’m getting to a point where I’m practicing Ramadan every year and it’s actually starting to affect my daily life in a way that it is more meaningful now than before,” he said. “Now I’m at a point where I have to focus on balancing both my work and study life and be able to worship Allah at the same time.”