Fast-a-thon fosters faith and understanding

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Fast-a-Thon returns to Saint Louis University’s campus on Nov. 19, offering students an opportunity to grow stronger as a community. The day offers full exposure to Muslim traditions and the Islamic faith.
Fast-a-Thon provides the option to students, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to fast from sun-up to sun-down. While fasting is a primary component of the day, there are a few main goals the Muslim Student Association hopes to achieve.
“The holistic purpose is to create a community where people identify as Muslim and also to spread awareness of the Islamic beliefs and traditions to break down stigmas and stereotypes associated with the faith,” Patrice French, an advisor to MSA said. “Islam has gathered so much attention the last couple years with all the issues pertaining to a couple extremists. However, people can’t let their opinions of something they don’t know much about be defined by underlying assumptions of others. It really takes an active approach of learning through others by reaching out.”
It is her third year involved with the event, French works to ensure the day goes as smoothly as possible. Coordinating with the University and its policies and procedures, she handles the logistics such as planning financially.
“The student leaders take the lead for brainstorming and planning, and I just make sure we make our end result happen successfully,” French said.
One of these student leaders is Ziad Maqbool, co-president of MSA. Maqbool’s involvement began with accepting a friend’s invitation to help.
“Last year, a friend invited me to help with preparing the food at Fast-a-Thon. I wasn’t very involved in religion. I participated and enjoyed the presentation and dinner while helping out, and I began to let go of these stigmas I had about religious individuals,” Maqbool said.
He encourages both non-Muslims and Muslims to participate. He identifies a misconception commonly held toward Fast-a-Thon.     “People think it’s more of a ‘Muslim-only’ event, when it is almost more for non-Muslims,” Maqbool said.
He stated that all students, regardless of faith, are not only welcome, but encouraged to attend.
“This year, we are hoping our numbers increase, so people can become more aware of the message we’re sending. Last year we had near 300, and this year we have almost 400 students involved,” Maqbool said.
The day itself devotes much attention to fasting, which Maqbool explains involves more than just food.
“Hopefully, people pledge to fast, abstaining from food, but also from time-wasting activities such as cursing, talking behind each other’s backs and lying,” Maqbool said. “We hope they learn that things in this life that we hold at such a high standard can be harmful to us—excessive eating, drinking, smoking. While some [of these activities] may be fine in moderation, once you abstain from these things completely, you realize how much you don’t need them. It teaches self-restraint.”
In the evening, all are welcome to attend a dinner in the ballroom in the Busch Student Center, along with a presentation and a special guest. Evening prayer will be lead alongside a presentation explaining each step.
Following  dinner will be a performance by Rohina Malik.
“She is an amazing person that really has a good talent of sharing her personal connections to her faith and demonstrates it to others through her art, which is live performance. It’s going to be a really engaging and impacting experience,” French said.
All proceeds go directly to The World Food Program, a charity that fights world hunger. The program is funded through Student Government Association. Whether you are religious or non-religious, the day offers many opportunities to learn more about the Islamic faith and Muslim customs. Fast-a-Thon plans to break all barriers and clear the “smoke-screen” to create a more aware and unified community.
“We’re just normal students who you pass in the hall and on campus. This is what is inside of us, this is what we feel,” Maqbool said. “We want to show everybody we’re all like you.  The main purpose of Islam is to worship God. It’s also to be good to everybody. Just as SLU’s mission states, we are all men and women for others.”