“ I won’t be able to buy fruits for iftar this Ramadan, they’re too expensive in the supermarkets”, says Shifana Sherin. The 18-year-old student at the University of Groningen (RUG), feels “anxious” about her first Ramadan away from her family in Dubai.
Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar is when Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise until sunset. This year it is set to begin on the 22nd of March. The fast is broken at sunset with a meal called “iftar” which comprises fresh fruits, dates, fried delicacies and meat. People wake up at dawn for their second meal, “suhoor”, in preparation for the next day. While this means going without eating food and drinking water for many hours each day, surprisingly the month of Ramadan shares a deep connection with food across cultures.
According to a report on the economic impact of Ramadan on the food sector, “ Despite the fact that Ramadan is a fasting month, food consumption during the time of “iftar” to “suhoor” exceeds normal consumption pattern”.
Rising food prices and impact on the iftar table
Recent Data revealed by CBS, the Dutch statistics agency has shown that inflation in the Netherlands rose in February after a four-month period of deceleration mainly due to rising food prices. On average, food prices in February 2023 were 15 % higher than last year.
Amidst the hike in food prices, international students in the Netherlands who pay higher tuition fees as compared to their European counterparts are worried about managing their budget for food this Ramadan. “Because of the rising costs of food, I asked my family in Nigeria to send me a few things so I have sufficient ingredients to prepare my iftar”, says Yusrah Ibrahim, an international student pursuing her bachelor’s at the RUG.
Yusrah fidgets with the loose ends of her bright blue hijab before adding that she had been struggling with the rise in food prices even before Ramadan. However, the increased expenses on nutritious food during the holy month may lead her to dig into her savings and leave out some items from her grocery list.
The emotional aspect of spending Ramadan away from home
Ramadan is a community-driven religious practice that is normally celebrated with family and friends. In many cultures, community iftars are hosted for everyone to break their fast together. “In Lagos (Nigeria), where I’m from it’s common for neighbours to take turns preparing iftar and inviting each other to share the feast. There is always so much food on the table, fruits, dates, appetizers, tapioca, jollof rice and custard. What I’m going to miss most is the tapioca”, chuckles Yusrah with a look of distant longing in her eyes.
Spending the month of Ramadan alone can be a daunting experience for many international students who are getting used to a new way of life and dealing with academic stress simultaneously.
Yusrah lives in a student housing facility with shared amenities and is worried about waking her housemates while preparing her meal for suhoor at dawn. “Maybe I will have to ask them to pardon me during Ramadan”, says Yusrah. For Shifana, the task of waking up at dawn to prepare her meal during the exam period seems like a challenge. “I will miss my mom waking me up for suhoor with a meal that is ready to eat”, she adds with a sad look in her eyes.
In addition to dealing with emotional stress, students at the RUG have grievances against the lack of accessible prayer rooms in all university buildings. “If I have to pray during my lectures which are in the Harmonie complex, I have to go all the way to the university library which has the closest and only option for a prayer room that I am aware of “, says Yusrah. Her worries are mirrored by Sekar from Indonesia, a student of international relations at the RUG. “It becomes tiring having to move around so much while fasting”, she adds.
Elies Kouwenhoven, a spokesperson at the RUG was contacted for a comment regarding the issue of prayer rooms being inaccessible to many students during Ramadan. No response has been received so far.
Stocking Up On Ramadan Supplies & Charity
The Souk, which is a popular Algerian-owned supermarket in the heart of Groningen boasts of stocking a wide variety of Ramadan supplies from the middle eastern and Mediterranean regions.
According to Mysa who works at the Souk, prices of most food items have increased in the past year but preparations for Ramadan are being carried out in full swing.
Customers at the Souk come looking for a wide selection of traditional Ramadan sweets in addition to other essential Ramadan supplies such as dates. “ The Algerian kelbelouz which is a pastry made with almonds, sugar syrup and semolina, the Moroccan Chebakiya made of flour, almonds and honey and the Zalabiya or Jalebi which is a sweet dish of Indian origin are the best-selling items at the shop during Ramadan”, says Mysa.
The spirit of sharing and charity is central to the idea of Ramadan. During this month, those celebrating also engage in community service to help those in need. In keeping with the spirit of Ramadan, the Souk has partnered with an organisation that is raising funds to carry out relief measures in the earthquake-affected areas of Syria and Turkey. “We will be selling traditional Ramadan soup at the store and the proceeds from the sales will be donated to the victims of the recent earthquakes”, adds Mysa.