Muslims share their Ramadan tradition with Fast-A-Thon

  • Fast-a-thon invites non-Muslims to fast for one day during Ramadan
  • The events often also fundraise for charitable causes
  • Some people modify their fast to make it easier to participate

Students at the University of Alabama Birmingham celebrating their Fast-a-Thon. Photo courtesy of Einas Ali.

(NewsNation) — University of Alabama at Birmingham student Raimi Liebel grew up in a community without a lot of Muslims. But when she saw an Instagram post about Ramadan — the month of the year when Muslims abstain from food and water from sun up to sun down — it piqued her curiosity.

She learned the local Muslim Students Association (MSA) chapter was hosting what’s called a “Fast-A-Thon,” where non-Muslim students are invited to fast for one day and then join the Muslim community for a group meal when the sun sets. She decided to take part and see what life for Muslims is like.

“It was really wonderful. And during the day, it gives you some space that you normally don’t have. You eat about three meals throughout your day. It brought a little bit of peace and mindfulness, which I wasn’t expecting,” she said.

It was one of many Fast-A-Thons that took place across the U.S. over the past month. These events most commonly take place at schools, but some private businesses, like law firms, have gotten involved more recently. The goal is to build bonds between Muslims and non-Muslims, helping demystify the religion of Islam.

Liebel enjoyed the community aspect of the evening meal, called iftar. Over 200 students attended this year.

“It was a lot of fun to share that moment of breaking a fast together…the fact that we got to eat in community was very rewarding,” Liebel said.

Students at the University of Alabama Birmingham gathering for their evening iftar. Photo courtesy of Einas Ali.

Fast-A-Thons also frequently serve the purpose of raising aid for a charitable cause. At the University of Alabama Birmingham, the MSA collected money and goods for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.

Einas Ali, vice president at the school’s MSA, said non-Muslims she spoke to described being thirsty but not hungry at the end of the day.

“It’s the same thing that all of us Muslims experience,” she said of the commonalities.

While some people may be intimidated by the prospect of completely abstaining from food and water during daylight hours, some non-Muslims who take part in Fast-A-Thons do a pared-back version of fasting so that they can still participate.

Jackson Brandt, a non-Muslim student at the University of Arkansas, decided to take part in a Fast-A-Thon in that school, abstaining from food but not water. The iftar he attended at the end of the day included a mix of Mediterranean and Indian food for attendees to feast on, as well as an educational lecture about Islam.

“I liked how… open-minded but also very basic the information taught at these gatherings were. It was very digestible to somebody who maybe isn’t a Muslim…It made it easier to see the parallels between Islam and Christianity and Judaism,” Brandt said.

At the University of Pittsburgh, the MSA’s Fast-A-Thon raised more than $4,000 for the charitable organization Islamic Relief in an event they put together with nearby Chatham University and Carnegie Mellon University. Islamic Relief supports global anti-poverty programs, including disaster relief, food aid and microfinancing.

Pittsburgh MSA president Zeyad Amr estimated close to 300 students participated; turnout was so above expectations that they had to call the caterer and double the order of food. Demonstrating the intended inclusive nature of these events, they made sure to offer a wide selection of food, including vegan options.

Amr explained how the event helps Muslims, too, get out of their bubble.

“It’s easy to just have your own beliefs, practices, and just kind of stay in your own world. Stay surrounded by people who understand you or whatever,” he said.

He said Muslims are often frustrated at ignorance about Islam, but Fast-A-Thon offers an opportunity to change the narrative.

“I think we have to look inwardly and say, ‘Did we do our part to even educate these people about why we do these things;?” he said.

Ramadan will be coming to a close this week as Muslims around the country celebrate Eid after the last day of fasting on Thursday.


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