Fastathon unites faiths in charity event

Participants waited until sunset Friday to enjoy a feast in Wallace Hall after fasting.
Participants waited until sunset Friday to enjoy a feast in Wallace Hall after fasting.
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Four long tables, sparse except for plates of sweet dates, lined Wallace Hall on Friday afternoon, where approximately 100 hungry students and community members sat patiently, waiting for the sun to set.

Those in the room were both Muslims observing Ramadan and non-Muslim voluntary participants in the Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA) Fastathon.

Ramadan takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar and requires individuals to fast from dawn until dusk. This year Ramadan began on Oct. 5 and will end on Nov. 3.

Two other tables at the opposite end of the room—a separate table for each gender—were laden with homemade food prepared by Muslim families from the Kingston community. In accordance with the rules of Ramadan, the people would only be allowed to enjoy the aromatic feast after sundown.

Dr. Shelby Haque, a member of the Islamic Society of Kingston (ISK), offered words of encouragement and advice to the crowd as they anxiously awaited 6:01 p.m.—when the sun would officially set. Haque congratulated the participants who were unused to fasting on their accomplishment and contribution to the community.

“If you ask anybody who’s fasted … the last 15 minutes are always the worst,” he said. “If you think that it’s a small thing that you gave up food for one day—it’s not.”

With just minutes to go before sunset, Haque closed his speech with some advice he hoped Fastathon participants would better realize after their day of abstinence “Be thankful for what you do have,” he said. “No matter what the food is, there’s someone with worse food or less food than you.” Fastathon, an event organized by Muslim students’ associations throughout North America, invites non-Muslims to join in the experience of fasting for one day.

According to QUMSA’s website, participants sign a pledge promising to abstain from food and drink, in addition to trying “real hard to refrain from negative thoughts and speech.”

QUMSA has been holding a Fastathon for three or four years, according to chairperson Ahmed Mohamed, a second-year PhD student in biology.

“For every non-Muslim who fasts, we donate a dollar on his behalf to the [AMS] Foodbank,” Mohamed said.

Donations are provided by the sponsors of the Fastathon, who this year included the Super 8 Motel, the Welcome Traveller, Kozy Inn, and various members of the ISK.

Fastathon participants raised $300 this year.

Just after 6 p.m., plates of dates were passed down the tables. Participants broke their fast with a date or two as all Muslims were called to prayer. Four prayer mats were rolled out between the two food tables. The hall fell silent as Haque led the group in the salah, or compulsory prayer, made five times a day.

Mohamed said the Fastathon has several purposes beyond giving participants the opportunity to feel the sensation of hunger experienced by many people throughout the world, whether for religious reasons or due to poverty.

“It’s a chance to start a dialogue … to give [participants] more information about how Muslims are,” Mohamed said. “There are lots of misconceptions through media … and this is a good way to connect Muslims to non-Muslims.

“The best way to do that is to share a meal together … to work for a good cause together.”

Participants said there are benefits to participating in the Fastathon.

“It’s like you understand how people with no food live with days of not eating,” said Issam Boujaode, a graduate student in civil engineering. “You start feeling more and giving more.” Anjala Kulasegaram, ArtSci ’08, participated in the Fastathon for the first time this year to help raise awareness of cultural differences on campus.

“Lots of people who go to this school are privileged and there are a lot of people who aren’t privileged,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about minorities or what Ramadan is.” Thomas Simmons, ArtSci ’08, said he participated this year to support a colleague who is on the executive committee for QUMSA.

“It’s a good reflection of Queen’s to support different cultures,” he said.

Dina Sati, Sci ’06, who was fasting for Ramadan, said she appreciates the support of her fellow students.

“It brings everyone together,” she said. “It gives [participants] a taste of what we go through.”

Zehra Sheerazi, Comm ’07, said the Fastathon teaches participants about more than just controlling one’s appetite.

“It goes beyond that to control your thoughts from being vile,” she said. “It’s about teaching yourself self-control. That’s the beauty of our religion.”

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