Muslim students seek interfaith dialogue though ‘fast-a-thon’

Mariam Davis, 21 (left) and Abd El-Ghazali, 21 (right) in the Muslim Students Association tent outside the HUB. (Photo by Chetanya Robinson)
Mariam Davis, 21 (left) and Abd El-Ghazali, 21 (right) in the Muslim Students Association tent outside the HUB. (Photo by Chetanya Robinson)

The University of Washington Muslim Students Association held its annual “fast-a-thon” Friday, where people are invited to take part in an all-day fast, donate the money they would have spent on food to a local charity, and then eat a free dinner in the evening.

The group members also hope the event spreads understanding of Islam, as the news of the shooting deaths of three Muslim students in North Carolina sparked fears that Islamophobia is spreading in the United States.

“The ultimate goal of the fast-a-thon is to show that as Muslims in our community, on this campus, it’s our duty to take care of other people,” said Ahmad Tirhi, 21, president of the Muslim Students Association. This includes people of any faith, Tirhi said.

This year, the money raised in the fast-a-thon will be donated to the local chapter of Hopelink, an organization that delivers food to the needy.

This year’s fast-a-thon, though not part of Ramadan — the annual 30 days of mandatory fasting for Muslims — is still connected to Islamic tradition.

The goal of Ramadan for Muslims, said Tirhi, is to feel closer to God spiritually, but also to understand the plight of the poor and hungry. The UW fast-a-thon is also rooted in these values.

“It [fasting] can do so much for anybody,” said Tirhi. “But the one thing we all gain from it is we’ll know what it feels like to go hungry for a day. And when you can experience that — that hunger for one day — you’ll feel like you are blessed.”

The Muslim Students Association holds several yearly events and can frequently be found outside the HUB

Another goal of the fast-a-thon event is to engage in dialogue between faiths. On the webpage for the event, the Muslim Students Association encourages anyone to join, saying: “This is an interfaith event, and you are all encouraged to bring as many people as you can, both Muslims and non-Muslims! Most religions share a tradition of fasting, and while we may do it slightly differently, this is a good way to bring us all together and learn about each other.”

Yusuf Ibrahim, 21, said it’s always good to see a lot of non-Muslims attend because it shows people that Muslims are a part of the UW community.

“It’s a great chance for us to open up dialogue and see that despite different faiths we do have very similar underlying values and share a lot in common,” he said.

The killing of three Muslim students Tuesday in Chapel Hill was a shock for Muslim students.

“It’s for sure scary,” Ibrahim said. “You can’t help but imagine that could have been you or a family member or one of your close friends. But UW has been a great campus. I have not seen any acts of violence or scorn toward Muslim students.”

Vigils have been held over the past week after University of North Carolina dental student, Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, prospective UNC student Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her visiting sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot fatally. A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, is accused in the shooting.

Tirhi for his part said that interfaith events such as the fast-a-thon can help prevent such violence because spreading awareness about Islam can show people that Islam is about peace and does not promote the killing of innocents.

In this way, interfaith dialogue can make a big change in peoples’ attitudes, Tirhi said.