Students celebrate Ramadan, fast to benefit Central Missouri Food Bank

The Muslim Students Organization held a Fast-a-thon for students to experience Ramadan.
Senior Phyllis Williams reads an article about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin Wednesday morning in her room. Williams awoke before dawn to eat breakfast before fasting the rest of the day for the Muslim Students Organization's fast-a-thon.

Senior Phyllis Williams set her alarm for 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday in order to eat breakfast before sunrise, but she pressed the snooze button and consequently was not able to eat again until after sunset.

As a participant in the Muslim Students Organization's Fast-a-thon, which benefits the Central Missouri Food Bank, Williams spent the day observing the Islamic holy month Ramadan.

"I wanted to have this cultural experience," she said.

Ramadan, historically the month when the revelation of the Quran came to the prophet Muhammad, is the ninth month of the lunar calendar. During this time, the five pillars of Islam - charity, pilgrimage, fasting, prayer and profession of faith - are especially important, MSO spokesman Nabihah Maqbool said.

Ramadan is one of the main tenants of Islam, senior Furqaan Sadiq said.

"You devote one month of the year to a sincere time of reflection," Sadiq said. "It reminds individuals and the community about charity, giving and recognizing that in everyday life we lose touch with human core values of being helpful and kind."

As part of Ramadan fard, or religious duty, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. Fasting, Sadiq said, is an ancient tradition for any religion.

"For Muslims it's special, abstaining from one of the strongest human desires," he said.

Maqbool said she can look in her fridge, but she just can't eat anything in it.

"I baked brownies for two hours, but I didn't lick the spoon," she said.

For the past several years, MSO has held a Fast-a-thon as a fundraiser during Ramadan, an event open to everyone on campus regardless of faith. Participating students collected pledges for the Central Missouri Food Bank and then fasted on Wednesday, ending with Iftar, the fast-breaking meal, at dusk.

Sophomore Max Colburn said the idea of a Fast-a-thon sounded intriguing.

"I thought it would be an interesting experiment," he said. "It definitely gives you a different look at things. You don't have the idea of food to drag you through a class."

Having eaten a light dinner the night before and missing breakfast, Williams said she was hungry by 10 a.m. On a typical day, she would eat at noon, but during the Fast-a-thon, that was not an option. She said she began to reach for a bottle of water but caught herself and took a nap instead. Naps, she said, are key to escaping hunger.

Despite her relentless hunger, Williams never questioned the Fast-a-thon, she said.

"I wanted to have an accurate experience," she said. "After I got out of the box of hunger, it did allow time to focus on other things. I had time to refocus on what was going on in my life at the time."

Colburn said he enjoyed the experience and felt similarly.

"Your eyes open in different ways," he said. "You tend to feel more fluid, not as tied down."

There were no consequences for breaking the fast, but Colburn said he felt guilty for even thinking about eating.

At 7 p.m., Fast-a-thon participants gathered for Iftar.

"Where's the food?" Williams said immediately upon entering the room.

"It was the most amazing feeling I have ever had in my whole life," Williams, smiling, said after eating. "I felt like a kid on Christmas."

At the end of the event, Maqbool counted 36 pledge sheets. No businesses donated money, but Macaroni Grill donated gift cards and Olive Garden provided food for the Iftar.

"This provides a diversity of culture and theological belief," Colburn said of the event. "There should be more public awareness. Members of staff on campus, anyone who has knowledge of an event like this should come and tell students 'You will learn something new.'"

Junior Hannah Rubin said she wishes other students would take advantage of cultural events like Ramadan.

"People don't understand it and then they fear it," Rubin said of Islam.

Williams said student awareness of MSO might be affected by misguided perceptions.

"I think it has a lot to do with negative associations people tend to make," she said. "It's unfortunate that people have become discouraged to join because of unfair stigmas."

Sadiq said MSO has the same obstacles as any other minority organization: prejudice, racism and sexism.

"It's frustrating to try and explain that it is not what I, we, the religion believes at all," Maqbool said in reference to Islamic extremists who commit terrorist acts. "I find it reprehensible. The Quran is against suicide attacks and killing innocent women and children."

Sadiq said the easiest way to deal with these obstacles is to create an active, positive MSO presence on campus.

"Part of MSO's goal is to open up dialogue and have cross-cultural events," Sadiq said.

Most recently, MSO has worked with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs to use rooms in A.P. Green Chapel for salat, or prayer. The prayer space has always been available to MU students of any faith.

Sadiq said he has always used the chapel because of its quiet atmosphere and central location. He said its recent, more official designation as a prayer space is a step forward for Muslims.

"For us it is really important that we get permission," Maqbool said. "It shows that we are connected with campus officials."

Maqbool, who has used other spaces such as the government documents room at Ellis Library, said the chapel works perfectly.

Maqbool said it is important to have an open organization like MSO.

"College is a time for people to either find faith or distance themselves from it," Maqbool said. "(MSO) serves as a community to meet people, discuss and learn of a different faith."

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