Shani Sambetta/The Hoya Iftar dinners, held during Ramadan to break the daily fasts, offer Dania Ayoubi (COL ’07) and Karima Moorehead (COL ’07) a chance to catch up at the end of a hectic day.

Losing something for a while is a good way to understand how valuable it is. Members of Georgetown’s Muslim community, who fill up McShain Community Lounge with cheerful chatter every evening, are walking proof of this statement.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual relations from sun rise to sun set. However great this conscious effort seems, they call it only the basic level of fasting. To them, Ramadan and fasting bear a full spectrum of meanings, ranging from the spiritual to the social.

Hungry for a Reason

Fasting and the rituals attached to it change the lifestyle of uslims. On a personal level, they say it makes them more conscious of their religion and their actions. On a social level, it brings them all the closer to their “brothers and sisters,” with whom they share their meals and prayers.

“We’ve commanded you to fast, just as we’ve commanded those before you to fast, in order that you will become more conscious of good and evil,” quotes Zaheer Arastu from the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Arastu is the Chaplain-in-Residence in Kennedy Hall. By this command, fasting became one of the five pillars of Islam, Arastu says.

“When you see the moon, start fasting, and until you see the next crescent moon, fast until then,” Arastu explains. “And He wants it to be easy for you, so if you’re sick or if you’re pregnant, you don’t have to fast, you can fast later or you can give in charity.”

Arastu says Muslims thank God for the blessings He gave them through fasting.

“You realize, when you fast, how dependent you are on God for guidance, for your provisions and for all the blessings, your Family, your accommodations . Thank God for it,” he says.

M.C. (SFS ’04) thinks fasting is something very private. “Unlike other forms of devotion, going to mosque, praying or reading the Quran aloud . only God and you know that you’re fasting,” he says.

“Just a little bit of water,” Saad Omar (COL ’07) says, “When you’re so thirsty and when you drink water it’s the best thing in the world for you. When you’re not fasting, you take it for granted, you don’t realize how important it is, how special it is.”

Shabana Arastu (SFS ’99, MBA ’00), Zaheer Arastu’s wife, sees fasting as a great opportunity to feel what the needy and the poor feel. “When you are hungry, and you don’t have the food there all the time, you actually think about who it is that gave you the food,” she says.

Arastu says the Quran was revealed in Ramadan, and the revelation made it the blessed month. He believes there is a strong relationship between revelation of the Quran, fasting and reading the Quran during Ramadan. “Now you’re fasting and you’re in a state of alertness and a state of consciousness to God, and then you read the Quran, you can really reflect on the message . That’s why people spend so much time praying and thinking about the Quran [in Ramadan],” he says.

Aiza Hussain (SFS ’06) hopes her higher consciousness of spirituality will not fade away once the month is over. “In Ramadan I make the effort to pray five times a day. I’m fasting, why wouldn’t I pray? Fasting is an obligation, so is the prayer, why would I do one and not the other? But prayer is an obligation all the time. I know I let that slip when Ramadan ends,” she admits. She says this time she will try to keep “that sense intact.”

Community Building

Ramadan is a special time of the year, when Muslims share a great deal with others of their faith. During Ramadan each day includes Sahurs, early breakfasts, and iftars, dinners when Muslims break their fast, along with Teravih, evening-prayers that bring members of the family and the larger community together.

“It’s great because you have hectic schedules, you don’t get to see your parents or siblings, you all gather around the table and you’re breaking your fast, you’re swapping stories about your day,” Asma Mirza (MSB ’06) says.

Aalaa Abuzaakouk (SFS ’06) says iftars gave her family the opportunity to eat together. “We never had a structured dinner time, because my father would come late. In Ramadan, because we all broke fast at the same time, it created a family spirit too, eating together at one time.”

Some Muslim students reflect upon their Ramadan memories before college with a longing for their families. Ramadan seems to be the time when Muslim students get homesick.

“Everything is different when you’re with family,” Esa Syeed (COL ’06) says. “One of the biggest things is that you have better food on a regular basis and more food.”

Hussain shares Syeed’s sentiment in missing the comforts of home. “When you fast at home you have your family, you go home and you rest and your mom cooks good food,” she says. “At home it’s more comfortable and convenient, you have your family, you have your parents. I do miss my parents in Ramadan.”

Ramadan is a time, which brings not only the family members together, but also the larger community.

“People are inviting each other over, it’s a lot of fun, everybody wants to have a party,” Mirza says, adding, “Weekends get booked so fast.”

The mosque is the center that brings the American Muslim community together. “The community builds around the mosque,” Hussain explains. “You don’t have that in a Muslim country because the whole country is Muslim. Why would you have to radiate out from that center?”

Hussain says the mosque helps to bridge the cultural differences, which sometimes divide the American Muslim community.

“Islam doesn’t say we’re distinguished by culture, but sometimes that comes into play. In our community Arabs speak to Arabs and Pakistanis speak to Pakistanis,” she says. “[But] everyone comes to the same mosque.”

Eid is the large festival that marks the close of Ramadan. Thousands of Muslims gather in mosques for the Eid prayer, and festivities go on the whole day. Unlike the rest of the world, where Eid is celebrated for three days, American Muslims have reduced it to one day.

Arastu thinks the American Muslim community has no problem in celebrating the Eid despite the time constraint.

“The feeling is there, but we really do something for one day,” she says. Arastu says that locally, 20,000-30,000 American Muslims attend the Eid prayer and sermon at the Washington Convention Center.

Hussain points out a difference between Muslim countries and the United States: Women do not go to Eid prayer in Muslim countries, but in the United States, they do.

“Your Friends Become Your Family”

Muslim students describe their Ramadan experience in college as “different”, but not necessarily worse than their experience at home. One of the things that make Ramadan in college more enjoyable is the communal iftars organized by members of the uslim Student Association. Hussain says she likes her experience at Georgetown, because the cultural differences that divide the larger American Muslim community do not divide the community at Georgetown.

“Partly because we’re kids, and partly because you can’t afford to [be exclusive] in here because there’s not that many of your group, everyone kind of mingles together,” she says.

Abuzaakouk remembers how she made friends during Ramadan in her freshman year.

“You have that freshman anxiety, you want to fit in, you want to make friends but you don’t know how to do that,” she says. “Ramadan gave me the opportunity to meet people and make forged friendships with people and hang out in a day to day basis.”

Sara Gamay (SFS ’05) organizes the MSA iftars, which are co-sponsored by Campus Ministry. She says about 100 people gather in McShain Lounge for iftar every day. Sometimes alumni or parents of students sponsor iftars. Also, a number of students may share the cost among themselves to sponsor an iftar.

Nabeel Yousef (SFS ’05), the president of MSA, finds the university administration very supportive of the Muslim community.

“[The] administration is really supportive and very open-minded, and very focused on supporting God-consciousness on campus, which is to everybody’s benefit,” he says. “It’s really nice having administration that not only tolerates Muslims but that is also supportive of their pursuit of getting closer to God.”

The Muslim Interest Living Community in Alumni Square is another way to foster the community feeling among students. Tarik Rajnarine (COL ’05) is a Christian who lives within MILC.

“A lot of my friends are Muslims, and it seemed like a good opportunity,” he says. “It seemed like it would bring me closer to God as well, I like the living situation. Everyone respects the rules . You’re not allowed to drink, also there’s not supposed to be a girl and a guy alone in the apartment.”

Rajnarine also fasts and wakes up for sahur with his roommates.

Noreen Bukhari (COL ’04) wanted to live in MILC, because she felt lonely during Ramadan in her freshman and sophomore years. “The whole point of Ramadan is to be with people and to fast together and to pray together. You don’t get that sense of feeling when you’re in a dorm atmosphere,” she says.

Now the Muslim Student Association is preparing for the upcoming Fast-o-thon. The Muslim students are calling upon Georgetown’s non-Muslim students and professors to pledge to fast next Saturday, Nov. 22. For every student that pledges to fast, the local businesses will donate $2 to “Bread for the City”, a non-profitable charity organization. The pledge form will be the students’ ticket to entry to the big iftar at Copley Formal Lounge.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to have other people connect with the hunger situation in the same way we do,” Arastu explains.

“You’re trying to empathize, and at the same time, you’re giving money,” Syeed says. “When you fast, you don’t necessarily see the reward in front of you, [charity] makes it very real. There’s this much amount of money attached to your fast. It works well together, brings two concepts together, hopefully it will be very successful.”

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