An Indian student completing his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor talks about observing Ramadan in the United States.
Mohammed Aamir Sohail is observing Ramadan for the third year in the United States. Photograph courtesy Mohammed Aamir Sohail.
I am a Ph.D. student at the department of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. I completed my bachelor’s degree in technology in electrical engineering in 2020 from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad. I recently received the Quad Fellowship, an initiative of the governments of the four Quad countries—Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
I am working in quantum communication theory and quantum learning theory. This work has applications in deep space satellite communication, quantum internet, quantum sensor networks and distributed quantum computing. All these applications play a crucial role in the sustainable growth of society. For example, quantum internet for the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and distributed quantum computing for simulating complex pharmaceutical drugs.
The United States provides good research opportunities both in industry and academia. People from all over the world come to the United States to study and work. Therefore, studying in the United States will help me develop skills to work with people with diverse backgrounds and cultures, develop a positive attitude toward learning from students more talented than me and, also, be compassionate with students struggling in the course.
This is the third time I’m observing Ramadan in the United States. I observed my first Ramadan during COVID-19 in 2021, and it was a tough experience as many activities were restricted. However, last year, I profoundly enjoyed the whole month. Ann Arbor has a vibrant community of Muslims. The Islamic Center of Ann Arbor and general Islamic centers across the country organize traditional iftar (evening feast for breaking the fast) in the mosque during the Ramadan period. At times, Muslim Community Associations plan activities for families. Every day, groups from different countries volunteer for the iftar, and serve their signature or traditional dishes. I had different cuisines each day. For example, lasagna from the African Americans, biryani from the Pakistani communities and shawarma from the Arabs. I had never experienced this diverse and culturally rich social gathering before coming to the United States. While I enjoy the vibrant and lively gatherings, I also miss my siblings and parents during the iftar and miss my mom’s home-cooked food.
This year, a group of restaurants and local administration collaborated to organize the suhoor (dawn food) festival for the last 10 sacred days of Ramadan. The amazing part is that it is open for both Muslims and non-Muslims. During these last 10 days, Muslims stay up the whole night, perform prayers and have suhoor. This year, I am planning to go to the suhoor festival along with my friends.
During Ramadan, I also perform Taraweeh prayers, one of the specialties of Ramadan nights, in which Muslims stand up at night to observe a number of optional salah and listen to and reflect on the recitation of the Quran. It is generally observed for the entire month with the recitation of one Juzz (part) of the Quran each day. ICAA organizes the Taraweeh prayers and stays open all night, so it is easy to visit, worship, pray Tahajjud prayers, or even have suhoor together with other brothers. ICAA also holds lectures during the month. I diligently attend those lectures in the mosque to introspect and rekindle the faith.
The University of Michigan has a Muslim Student Association, which organizes iftar and community-building activities. It is always fun to go, meet, and spend time with students from different nationalities.
Local Muslim communities, too, organize Ramadan and Id-al-Fitra bazaars, similar to the traditional middle eastern and Indian festive bazaars, full of vibrant, lively and mouth-watering snacks and thirst-quenching drinks, with a variety of counters for jewelry and clothes. This year, I am planning to attend both the Ramadan and Id al-Fitra bazaars, and do some traditional kurta shopping. I am also planning to organize a dinner on the day of Id al-Fitra and invite my Muslim and non-Muslim friends, and enjoy the day eating sheer korma and biryani with them.
Mohammed Aamir Sohail is a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.