Fast-a-thon fosters religious fellowship


Muslim students celebrate camus presence

Students of all faiths filled the Wool Ballrooms Wednesday evening, Nov. 4, to share a meal marking the culmination of Fast-a-thon, a day of fasting organized by SLU’s Muslim Student Association (MSA).

Ayesha Khawaja, MSA’s senior advisor, said that “Fast-a-thon is our most well-attended event; it’s one of the most popular on SLU’s campus for sure,” with an estimated 400 to 500 people participating. Between sunrise and sunset, students abstain from food and water.

The goal of Fast-a-thon is to raise awareness for what Muslims undergo during Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of intensive prayer and fasting. Every year, MSA ties Fast-a-thon into charity work for hunger relief.

On Monday, freshman Rida Mahmood and junior Humza Ahmed were selling shirts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the BSC. Emblazoned with the slogan “Feed the World, Feed Hope,” this year’s shirt sale proceeds will benefit Syrian refugees.

Ahmed remarked that SLU is “pretty much open to everyone,” and that its diverse faith communities share common values. He mentioned an upcoming collaboration with the Hindu Student Association.

Mahmood echoed his observations, saying SLU’s religious diversity offers “opportunities to learn about other faiths.”

“When you look at the more humanitarian aspect of it, and just coming together to help those less fortunate,” said Khawaja, “even the willingness to expand your own horizons and the willingness to go and educate yourself and put yourself in an uncomfortable situation for a day, I think [that] truly speaks to SLU’s diversity and how embracing they are of others.”

Fast-a-thon trails last month’s Islam Awareness Week, which included speakers, student panels and a festival highlighting Muslim culinary diversity.

Khawaja said that “SLU has done an amazing job accommodating Muslim needs.” These needs include dietary restrictions surrounding halal meat and prayer spaces in convenient locations. MSA is looking into petitioning SGA for special sinks related to the ritual cleaning that precedes certain prayers.

Despite its Catholic identity, SLU boasts a thriving Muslim community oriented around both the Bilal Ibn Rabaah mosque, on West Pine, and the Muslim Student Association. Khawaja explained that, while even within SLU’s Muslim community there exist cultural and language barriers, prayer unifies.

This year, Khawaja’s parents embarked on the hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all Muslims at some point in their lifetime.

The hajj dominated headlines this September with a crane collapse and a stampede. Following the stampede, Khawaja got a phone call at 3 a.m. from a relative; her parents were safe.

The experience left her with a question that traverses all religions: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Khawaja said that Fast-a-thon exists as an answer to other important questions: “How can we relate to other people? What’s the best way to form connections?

MSA has strived to focus on interfaith work and collaborative efforts. Last year, this translated into a talk with the Hindu Student Community on the longstanding India-Pakistan conflict. This year, MSA hopes to do something with the Black Student Alliance.

“Especially in this time of Islamophobia and people ostracizing those who identify as Muslims, it’s really important to … flip it on its head,” she said.

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