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Muslim or not, Iftar builds community

By Stephan Sukmaran

Section: Arts

October 12, 2007

Despite being filled with students, parents and even young children, Levin Ballroom was oddly quiet as I entered. Looking about the room, I soon found the reason as I watched a group of Muslim Student Association (MSA) members conducting evening prayers by the stage.

Not knowing what to do, I shuffled awkwardly to a corner until someone directed me to an empty seat. I could not help but be caught up in the almost entrancing rhythm and tone used by the imam, and judging by the serene atmosphere, I wasnt alone.

The MSA hosted a campus-wide Iftar last Thursday evening. Graduate Student Affairs, Brandeis Pluralism Alliance, and the BUILD fellowship program, an interfaith development project, co-sponsored the event, which broke the penultimate day of fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Preceding the dinner, a reading from the Quran was followed by a small speech given by Imam Talal Eid, discussing the meaning of Ramadan and a discussion of Islam.

An impromptu poll showed the guests included Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs. During the prayer that took place earlier in the evening, the imam concluded by saying we must all learn to love one another during this holy month of Ramadan. This theme resonated throughout the evening as everyone mingled and enjoyed in the great dinner together.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims the world over abstain from food and drink. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, began at sundown on the 13th of September. Many religions encourage similar religious fasting, such as Catholics during Lent and Jews during Yom Kippur. As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting is important custom for Muslims.

However, Ramadan involves much more than forgoing meals. The holy month is a time for personal contemplation and worship. The Arabic term sawm, literally to refrain, refers not only to the aforementioned fasting but also to practicing self-control in every aspect of daily life.

Ramadan encourages a nearness to Allah as Muslims express their gratitude and dependence towards him. Muslims also atone for their sins and reflect on the less fortunate during this time. They evaluate the manner in which they live in terms of Islamic guidelines. In this way, fasting is not only indicative of the physical act but of also the devotion of ones whole being to the essence of fasting.

The daily fasts (sawm) begin at sunrise and end when the fast is broken at sunset. The evening meal at which the fast is broken is called the iftar. Iftar is usually a communal undertaking. The MSA-sponsored iftars are open to both Muslim and non-Muslim members of the Brandeis community.

And whether you are Muslim or are of a different creed, there is something to be said about attending iftar. Nabilah Khan 08 perhaps said it best, stating, even if all you have is a single piece of bread at iftar, you share it with the person next to you. In doing so, you share in this persons religion and culture and, for at least one memorable evening, you are connected with them.

The month of Ramadan ends on the 12th of October. The conclusion of Ramadan is followed by Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of fasting.

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