Students at at Stoke-on-Trent College have been able to stay in touch with their peers – and observe the holy month of Ramadan – all from the comfort of their own home during lockdown.
Ramadan is currently being observed by Muslims across the world, from April 23 to May 23 and culminating in the festival of Eid.
During this period, healthy Muslims are required to fast from dawn to dusk, abstaining from any food or drink. But with the current social distancing rules in place and the UK lockdown, the celebrations are unable to go on as normal.
Sibgha Amin is a student union enrichment officer and wanted to support Muslim students during Ramadan.
Eighteen-year-old Sibgha, from Stoke, and other members of staff at Stoke-on-Trent College have worked hard during the lockdown period to keep in touch with students to protect their mental wellbeing during these uncertain times.
Sibgha and her colleague Rumaisah Sadi have been running the session every week since the end of April.
Sibgha said: “We wanted to make sure that we were still catching up with students during lockdown.
“We also knew there would be a lot of students wondering how they were going to celebrate Ramadan during this time. It’s an important thing for Muslims to celebrate, so it was going to be tough for the students who lived alone and could not go to visit their families.
“We decided to do a Zoom session every week. Not only for our Muslim students, but for everyone. It’s been a great chance for students to learn more about the faith.
“We just wanted to get the message out about Ramadan and allow people to understand what the month is really about.”
Sibgha and Rumaisah planned the sessions around a different theme each week.
Sibgha expained: “We both have a knowledge of Islam and were able to make a timetable of themes. For example, the first week was an introduction to Islam and what our beliefs are.
“Everyone spoke up which was great – and they had the opportunity to ask questions. But even if people were a bit shy, they didn’t have to have their camera on and could just use their microphone – or just sit and listen.
“Future themes will include patience and willpower – looking at how we can stop bad habits, even if they might be unintentional.”
Dave Hopley, director of Student Services, wanted the sessions to be as inclusive as possible.
He explained: “We want to raise awareness of Ramadan with our non-Muslim students, so they understand the significance of this religious festival and join their fellow students in celebrating it.
“It’s very important that we support our Muslim learners during Ramadan owing to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the festival. I am really proud of the work Sibgha and Rumaisah are doing and the response from staff and students has been brilliant.”
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Sibgha explained more personally how her experience of Ramadan has been different this year due to the lockdown.
She said: “In some ways it has been quite beneficial. Typically you would sleep for four to five hours and then work for eight to nine, run around all day and smell food. But that has changed with having to stay at home.
“It can make it easier for a lot of people because they can go at their own pace and wake up a bit later.
“The problem with it is the routine of feeding your body. You’re not exactly hungry, but you know that it is in your normal routine to eat.
“You obviously do need your energy, but if you have eaten at night, you can sustain that energy throughout the day.”
She added: “Women will usually pray at home, so nothing has really changed for them. But for men, they usually go to the mosque which they are unable to do at the moment.
“And if the mosque is open it is limited to say 10 to 20 people on a first come first served basis. I know that my younger brothers have been struggling with this.
“The celebration of Ramadan is very much a social thing, coming together with your family. But a lot of students may not have any family here because they come to study.
“We have had to explain to them that they cannot be socialising or going out, they have to maintain the social distancing. It is definitely hard for them, especially if they don’t understand English so well.”
The college also put together a video to wish all students Ramadan Mubarak.
Sibgha said: “We spread it across social media because we wanted to reassure everyone that even though we are not at college, we are still here for them.
“We are hoping to do something similar to celebrate Eid.”
You can find out more on the Stoke-on-Trent College Facebook page here.