Students fast until dark
It was 7 p.m. and senior Brianna Lehnert hadn’t eaten since sunrise.
“I had nothing to do. I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Everyone was eating around me—but I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.”
Her friend Ellen Beste, also a senior, felt similarly.
“I don’t know if I’ll be doing this again anytime soon,” she said half-jokingly.
Ramadan began on Aug. 11 this year, and for a lunar month all devout Muslims demonstrate their faith by fasting from sunrise to sunset, according to the Fiqht Council of North America.
At UMW the Islamic Student Association (ISA) hosts an annual Fast-a-Thon to encourage all students to join them in abstaining for a day from food, water or something else that they value.
In addition to the fast, the ISA presented the campus with its first-ever Hijabi Challenge in which women were encouraged to wear a head scarf for one day to see how it felt.
This year the ISA invited the community to break the fast together over dinner on Sept. 9, on the last evening of Ramadan, allowing people of all faiths to share and reflect upon their experiences related to the fast and to the wearing of the hijab.
The Free Lance-Star estimated that about 100 people attended the event, which took place in Great Hall.
Lehnert and Beste were inspired to fast for the event in response to weeks of flyers, e-mails and class announcements.
ISA Vice President, junior Shirin Afsous was excited by the positive response to the event.
“I’m so excited that so many people showed up,” she said.
“This is the best [turnout] we’ve ever had” agreed sophomore and ISA President Drema Khraibani.
They beamed at the crowd of people lined up at the buffet helping themselves to samplings of Biryani chicken with Basmati rice, fattoush salad, spicy cucumber yogurt, dates and pita bread.
Amidst the long line of people was junior Mohammad Mesbahi who has been fasting since the beginning of Ramadan.
Mesbahi fasts every year and doesn’t think it’s particularly hard, nor does it distract him academically.
“Not eating was not difficult,” he said. “The difficulty is in not drinking water.”
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Ramadan as a period of spiritual purification in which one is drawn nearer to God.
Mesbahi pointed out that there are other aspects, besides spirituality, associated with Ramadan such as sympathizing with the poor and being truthful.
“[Ramadan] is also about people being nice to one other for a month,” he said. “I think that’s a really wonderful thing.”
He believes that the events like the ISA dinner help spread awareness regarding Islamic culture.
“To some extent it introduces others to how we feel,” he said.
The Hijabi Challenge presented Muslim students like sophomore Sima Dajani, who have never worn a head scarf, with an opportunity to try it.
“This is the first time,” Dajani said of her blue hijab that a friend helped her pin together. “It was really interesting. Most of my friends didn’t treat me differently, but they were surprised.”
She said she chose to wear a scarf today as a symbol of religious tolerance. She also wanted to make a statement.
Dajani explains that women who wear scarves are no different from women who don’t wear them, “I don’t change when this scarf is on me. I am not a different person.”
Nilab Sadat, a senior and foreign exchange student from Afghanistan, does not usually wear a hijab on campus, but she did for the event.
She said that it made her feel good to see people who would not usually be fasting or wearing hijabs doing so.
“I feel comfortable seeing that people also value what I have faith and believe in. We’re all human beings,” she said.