Ramadan Fast-a-thon inspires cultural understanding

Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 12:45 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A slow economy might be to blame for a drop in the donations collected during the annual Muslim Student Organization's Fast-a-thon, but Muslims in mid-Missouri continue to support charitable giving during the final days of Ramadan.

The Fast-a-thon is an annual event that helps to promote cultural understanding during the month of Ramadan, a holy month that requires that Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

To promote the Fast-a-thon, MSO set up sign-up tables on the MU campus encouraging students to try their hand at a day-long fast on Sept. 17. Local businesses were asked to donate a dollar for every participant who fasted until Iftar, the break fast dinner. Students also brought their own monetary donations to the gathering.

Donations raised from the Fast-a-thon totaled about $200 and also included a collection of canned goods. The donations will go to the Central Missouri Food Bank. In previous years, collected donations had totaled as much as $2,000.

One of the tenets of the Islamic faith requires that Muslims fast during the ninth month of the year in order to obtain "taqwa," or "God consciousness." From sunrise to sunset they abstain from eating or drinking of any kind to hone their focus on charity, practice self-restraint and remember their blessings from God.

"How many of you got up before the sun rose so you could eat breakfast?" asked Nabihah Maqbool, public relations chair for MSO, during a gathering recently. Several people who had gathered to break the fast together raised their hands as everyone let out an understanding laugh. In observance of Ramadan, MSO hosted a break-of-fast dinner as part of the Fast-a-thon. Fried rice, homemade brownies, hummus and donations from area restaurants such as Olive Garden overloaded the tables arranged as a buffet line. The abundance of food came as a relief for the attenders, who had not eaten since sunrise.  After not satisfying hunger or thirst all day long, the 7 p.m. dinner revived the crowd. 

Students from a variety of faiths and backgrounds participated in what some participants said was one of the hardest days of their lives.

"It's a humbling experience," said sophomore Aubrey Adams. In between bites of dates and spinach wraps, she said: "The hardest part was not complaining and doing it gracefully. I have a lot of respect for the dedication shown by Muslims who participate in Ramadan."

Adams, who identifies herself as a Deist, became interested in the experience that Ramadan evokes after hearing about it from Muslim friends. While she is not looking to convert to Islam, her curiosity is allowing her to experience the Fast-a-thon theme: "Go hungry so someone else won't."

"I'm not closing any doors, but I'm still interested in learning," she said.

Almost 40 people filtered in and out of the break-of-fast dinner, but all gave their attention to Maqbool when she conveyed the organization's focus and appreciation of the event. "Assalamu Alaíkum," she began in the traditional Arabic greeting, which translates as "peace be with you." 

After a brief description of Ramadan, Maqbool stressed the significance of observing the holiday. "During the day, the fast is a constant reminder of God. You are going without food for his sake, practicing self-restraint in word, deed, and thought," she said. "There is a higher purpose we are channeling which compels us to do good things."

 As the dinner came to a close, Maqbool concluded with a word of encouragement. "Recognize these are blessed days. Focus on kindness to others and continue to sympathize with those who are not able to eat everyday," she said. "That is how we please God and challenge ourselves."

For more Faith stories, go to the Missourian's religion blog at

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