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Vt. college students celebrate spiritual growth and reflection during Eid al-Fitr

A sign welcoming attendees to the University of Vermont Muslim Student Association's Eid Al-Fitr
Adiah Gholston
Vermont Public
A sign welcoming attendees to the University of Vermont Muslim Student Association's Eid al-Fitr celebration.

On Friday evening, dozens of people trekked through rainy weather to gather in University of Vermont’s intercultural center to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

It's an Islamic holiday commemorating everything learned during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset in deep self reflection in order to build a stronger relationship with God.

During Ramadan, it’s common to set goals to renew one's relationship with religion. UVM master's student Lena Ginawi said that journey can be tough — but ultimately rewarding.

“Every year I set goals for myself, but there are moments where I fall off,” she said. “And there are other things happening in my life during the month of Ramadan, like I'm in school, I work and I have other commitments. But again, I try to remind myself, it's more about the quality rather than quantity. It's more about what I gained, what I learned, and how much growth I've made — rather than completing and meeting all the goals that I set for myself.”

St. Michael's College student and Fulbright scholar Chayma Boucenhe said one of her Ramadan goals was to cut down on things she was addicted to — including coffee and other forms of caffeine.

“Went from three cups a day to one cup a day,” she said. “ I think that's also a goal. And I have achieved that.’

Boucenhe said she felt like she experienced the spirit of Ramandan while doing service work in Hartford earlier this year.

“We were volunteering with the homelessness shelters. I see that as a transformative experience to me because I was fasting while others were coming for their meals — and you know that they are not really sure where to get the next meal," she said.

Before Ramadan started, the Muslim Student Association held an intention-setting event, where attendees came together as a community to prepare for the month ahead. There, they wrote letters to themselves detailing goals they wanted to accomplish.

Amna Shuja is a University of Vermont student and president of the Muslim Student Association. Writing that letter gave her a rush of memories about what Ramadan felt and looked like back home.

‘When I think about what I would do back home for Ramadan, like culturally, and then in terms of like, just being a Muslim, what my faith tells me to do — and if I don't have things like food or water to worry about — what else am I like working towards in my life?" she said. "It was basically about trying to realign myself to be a good person in my community."

For the past three years, Shuja has had mixed feelings surrounding Ramandan and Eid. She's originally from Pakistan, where this time of year is usually about connecting with family. And Shuja has found it difficult to emulate that type of community in South Burlington.

“When I came here, and it felt like 'Wow, where's the [people of color]? Where are they on the UVM campus? It was really terrifying," she said.

Shuja says she runs into a lot of ignorance at UVM when it comes to her religion, to the point where she sometimes doesn’t share that part of her identity.

“I feel like our community is a little misunderstood. And especially with like, the recent events... it feels like it's easier for people to misunderstand even more," she said.

Still, Shuja says she was able to find a strong community for this year's Ramadan and Eid.

“Being here at Eid and just seeing how many people signed up for this event is almost unbelievable,” Shuja said. “Being around people, it's really about celebrating and just reminding myself that I can find people who can celebrate this with me and are okay with that part of my identity."

Bouchenhe is also grateful for the small but tightknit group of Muslims in this community. She's from Algeria, and felt anxiety around spending her first Eid away from home and her family.

“I was really bracing myself for some sad feelings but it was actually totally the opposite because Eid here — even though it's a very small community — you still get to see people at the mosque. People make sure that everyone is included. And just even like at school, you would have a lot of 'Eid Mubarak' from your friends, American friends, my professors and everything," Bouchenhe said. "It's really helped me defeat the homesickness during this month."

Ginawi also highlighted the importance of connecting with others during Ramadan. She says celebrating this year feels like a privilege, given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Israeli military has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians since the latest war between Israel and Hamas broke out, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“I think there's a lot of privilege in being able to celebrate this holiday during every year, but I think especially this year — with everything that's happening globally — a lot of Muslims right now are facing a lot of oppression and violence. And that is restricting them from fully celebrating the month," she said.

Ginawi said she's been mentioning Palestinians in her prayers, and will continue to advocate for them beyond Eid.

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