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Non-Muslim, Muslim Students Fast Together To End Hunger

Seventh annual Fast-a-thon builds interfaith understanding

Washington -- In Bloomington, Indiana, 600 non-Muslim Indiana University students fasted with their Muslim peers on September 27 to raise money for the Bloomington Community Kitchen, which provides food for the hungry.

At Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, about 140 non-Muslims fasted October 7, raising more than $1,000 for the Rahima Foundation, a San Francisco Bay Area charity that helps the homeless and poor by distributing food.

At the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the $1,100 raised October 8 by 400 fasting students is being donated to a health clinic in Biloxi, Mississippi, that recently replaced a clinic wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.

At Rutgers University in New Jersey, 500 non-Muslim students fasted October 9, raising $5,000, and at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, fasting students raised more than $10,000 on October 5. At both schools, the Muslim student associations decided to donate the money raised to benefit displaced people in Darfur, Sudan.

Each year during the Islamic month of Ramadan, more than 280 schools and universities around North America sponsor Fast-a-thons, welcoming non-Muslims to join them in their fast for one day to raise money for charity. Fast-a-thons are intended to raise money for a specific charity, to increase awareness about the millions of people who go hungry every day, to foster greater understanding of the traditional Islamic observance of Ramadan and to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to support a good cause.

Muslims fast during daylight hours throughout the month of Ramadan as an act of submission, solidarity and remembrance.

Typically, local businesses and private donors pledge a certain amount that will be donated to charity on behalf of each non-Muslim who fasts during daylight hours on the day of a Fast-a-thon. In addition, events like bake sales may be held to benefit a Fast-a-thon, as at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, where groups held such sales and also sold green T-shirts that read "Fast to Fight Hunger." (In Islam, the color green symbolizes a happy occasion.)

At the University of Maryland at College Park, fasting students were asked to donate the money they would normally have spent on food that day to Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization working to end global poverty, student Namika Zaman told USINFO. She said 350 students participated, raising $1,380.

Usually a Fast-a-thon begins with a communal pre-dawn breakfast, after which participants abstain from eating any food or drinking any water or other beverages until sunset. At the conclusion of the fast, the Muslim student association on campus hosts a fast-breaking banquet, or iftar, for all who participated to thank the campus community for its efforts. At the banquet, non-Muslim participants often share what the experience has meant for them.  Muslim students, for whom breaking the fast for the day celebrates their adherence to their religious beliefs during the holiday, in turn try to educate their peers about Islam. At Stanford, for example, a panel of six Muslim students explained the personal and spiritual significance of Ramadan to an audience of almost 300.

At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where the Fast-a-thon first started in 2001 with 100 fasters before spreading around the United States and Canada, more than 1,000 fasted this year, raising more than $2,100, in the largest and most successful fundraising fast ever held at the school. The proceeds are donated to the Love Kitchen in Knoxville, which serves some 1600 meals each week to more than 200 people who would otherwise go hungry.

Tarek El-Messidi, a co-founder of the first Fast-a-thon, is proud that the event has “helped to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims in a lot of communities.”

“The best way to build bridges between American Muslims and Americans of other faiths is for them to actually step in our shoes for a day and experience what Muslims may experience,” El-Messidi told USINFO.


Those fasting at Temple University in Philadelphia raised money for the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank, known as Philabundance. Food banks typically collect donated food from growers, manufacturers and grocers and then warehouse and distribute the food for free, sometimes directly to the needy, but more often to organizations that serve those in need.

“The Fast-a-thon provided an opportunity for Muslims to share their fasting experience and the consciousness it raises with their non-Muslim peers,” Zaman said.

Non-Muslims cite a wide variety of reasons for participating in the Fast-a-thon.

At the University of Chicago, where 220 participants raised more than $600 for the Chicago Food Depository, a food bank, Natalie Hoover told her student newspaper: “I’ve lived in the Middle East, and I agree with the principle of Ramadan. It’s important to remember how blessed you are to have food.”

“I’m Christian but came to the banquet and participated in the fast to support my friend,” Southern Methodist senior Daniel Liu told his student newspaper. “This event creates a sense of solidarity among SMU students.”

“I’m a Christian, and when I fasted today I saw [other students] who were drinking apple juice and wondered if they knew how privileged they are to be drinking,” Rutgers freshman Alejandra Castano told her school newspaper.

At Syracuse University, Professor Peter Bell said he chose to fast to show his support for the Muslim student groups involved and to bring food to the poor. It is important to "be alongside them and give them some sense that they are not necessarily alone," Bell told the student newspaper.

Fasting “gives students a concrete, direct way to fight hunger,” according to Sean Blevins, a professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee and one of the founders of the Fast-a-thon. “It does this by letting them experience hunger, which hopefully makes the issue more real and more immediate.”

Abrar Ahmed, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said that the participation of non-Muslims in the Fast-a-thon “gives me the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Nimrah Karim Karim, who organized the 2006 Fast-a-thon at Georgetown University in Washington, told USINFO she sees the event as one that brings the whole campus community together in solidarity to help a charitable organization. "It's no longer an event for one faith group, but an event for all faith groups. ... It really promotes this pluralism in society as well."

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

... Payvand News - 10/15/07 ... --

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