More than 250 St. Thomas students and community members gathered Thursday evening in Murray-Herrick Campus Center to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.
“It’s been a great event. This year is the largest turnout they’ve ever had partially because they’ve decided to invite more people,” theology club president Bridget Kapler said. “They’ve started to ask all of the clubs [and] all of the religious organizations on campus [to attend].”
The main purpose behind hosting the Iftar celebration at St. Thomas was to promote diversity, respect among religions and a sense of community. The Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC), the Muslim Student Association, the theology club and the theology department sponsored the Iftar meal.
An opportunity to experience another culture
For several students, this year’s Iftar celebration was their first taste of Muslim culture.
“My professor in theology class talked about it and I didn’t really know much about it so I figured I learn more about the religion,” sophomore Brie Perell said. “[I hope to gain] a better understanding of their religion and their practices, their styles of food and culture.”
Other students like Kapler have made the Iftar celebration part of their own personal tradition.
“I had to go for a diversity requirement in a class my freshman year and then sophomore year I was like ‘Oh! I want to go back!’ Same with my junior year,” Kapler said. “This is my senior year and I [still] really enjoy it.”
For students like junior Tim Bettis, this celebration reaffirmed a sense of community.
“I studied in Lebanon so I’m used to this atmosphere and this culture but I’m just happy to see that a lot of other people are supportive of Middle Eastern cultures,” Bettis said. “[There is a definite] sense of community and people coming together.”
Many came to the event in hopes to gain a better understanding of faith and sense of community.
“I am Muslim, but every time I attend a lecture or an event [about Muslim culture], I do learn new things,” said senior Alla Osman, member of the St. Thomas Muslim Student Association. “[I am interested in] meeting new people and seeing other perspectives, to [gain] awareness of Islam, [and] break down stereotypes about Islam or Muslims.”
Fasting is a ‘surrender to God’
Iftar is the celebration that ends the fast of Ramadan. The Iftar evening meal is usually celebrated as a community just after sundown. At the celebration on Thursday, individuals enjoyed the traditional Iftar meal of chicken, hummus, baklava, rice and cucumber salad.
During the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, every physically-able Muslim is required to participate in a daily fast that lasts from sunrise to sunset. The evenings during Ramadan are spent sharing meals, focusing on spiritual reflection and prayer and reading the Qur’an.
“It is a time to remember our role, responsibilities and our mission,” said co-director of MCDC Adil Ozdemir. “Through fasting Muslims learn, feel, and experience the ideals of the Qur’an. Fasting is not only a physical exercise but a purification. It is surrender to God.”
Closing the gap between religions
Ozdemir believed the purpose of the event was to close the gap between different religions.
“We are hoping that [people] grow in interfaith awareness, that [there will be] a plurality of faiths, and that this [group of] people will grow in this awareness of inter-religious diversity,” he said. “The second [reason] is to strengthen ties and make friendships.”
Lois Dament, administrative assistant for MCDC, said that Muslims and Christians have some parallels.
“We’re humanity,” she said. “We’re all more similar than we are different. A lot of our faith is very similar.”
Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at email@example.com