By John Feinberg & Autumn McLeod
Over 100 students walked and biked their way to the Student Activities Center on a cold October night to break their fast they began at sunrise. Approximately 30 Muslim students removed their shoes and stepped onto the prayer mats in Ballroom A as the welcomed visitors looked on in silent reverence. A passage from the Quran was softly recited in a hymn-like manner by one student leading the group.
The red, yellow, pink and black patterns of dress contrasted the solid shades on the hijab. The room grew silent as the prayers continued. The lull was broken with the narration of Syrian refugees being played, describing the mission of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) over soft piano music. A student dropped a few dollar bills and loose change into a black metal collection box by the entrance — the clatter of nickels, dimes and pennies echoed in the box.
The date of the fast, Monday, October 26, didn’t coincide with any religious date in the Islamic calendar, according to Hassan Mujeeb, a graduate student.
“Fasting is only mandatory during the month of Ramadan, which was from June 15th to July 15th this year,” Mujeeb said. “It’s from sun-up to sun-down, so you wake up before the sun rises, fast, and then break your fast when the sun sets. You have a pre-dawn meal before the sun rises.”
Many students returned from previous years of the “Fast-a-Thon,” which has been organized by the MSA for 17 years. Students break their fasts at sunset and local businesses donate money towards charity for every student that participates.
“The fast engrains a sense of passion for the poor and for people that don’t have the ability to eat and drink all day,” said Humira Khan, the president of the MSA and senior at Stony Brook. Along with several of the board members of the organization and their chaplain, Sister Sanaa Nadim, the MSA hosted the event to attract non-Muslim students to the organization.
The fast is held by MSA organizations across the country and not only does it aim to provide humanitarian relief, but it also aims to educate the world about Islamic culture.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand what Islam teaches but get their views from the media, such as being oppressive in nature and various stereotypes,” Khan said. She and Sister Nadim hope that the events help bring light to their views of Islam.
“This is a very special event because it is not a celebration. It’s a commemoration of humanity and a reminder of who we are and how loving we are,” Sister Nadim said to the crowd around her.
Fast-a-Thons aren’t unique to Stony Brook. Throughout the U.S. and foreign countries, Islamic groups organize to raise money and spread awareness of their religion’s caring nature.
“We strive to continue making this an interfaith event by bringing diverse students together to raise awareness around the idea of fasting and fundraising for an important cause,” said Hedyia Sizar, co-chairman of the NYU’s Fast-a-Thon in 2014. “I find that diversity is not an achievement, but what you do with it. I hope to see more diverse students from our campus attend this event and commit to making an important impact.”
Fast-a-Thon organizers often look to donate to those who their event symbolizes: the poor and those with nothing. Hamilton College’s MSA organization located in Clinton, New York not only sent their donations to organizations that help refugees in Syria, but it also went towards local education.
”Last year we set up a scholarship fund for a high school in Utica which is the nearest city to us and it was a scholarship for a student attending a four year college. I think it was like $500,” co-president of Hamilton’s MSA said. The high school students were descendants of refugees.
“This is an event that has a humanitarian taste to it because you’re thinking about those that are less fortunate,” Nadim said. “You’re thinking about those who are hungry. You are attempting to try to heal and help in one particular moment at the same time.”
The proceeds, totaling over $800, from Stony Brook’s MSA event will be sent to children refugee camps in Syria and charities fighting homelessness on Long Island, Khan said. Holy Guacamole, Rosano’s and Taco Express were just a few of the local businesses that donated to the cause in addition to those who donated when they arrived at the event.