I'm usually a shy and quiet person, but Sept. 11 forced me to step out of my comfort zone in order to inform people what Islam is truly about rather than letting others falsely define the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in the world, yet still greatly misunderstood.
Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of the more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide are very peaceful people. Many of us were born and raised in this country, and we need to make our voices heard. Numerous Muslim students on campus are trying to do just that, acting as a means by which both Muslims and non-Muslims on campus can come and see what Islam is really all about.
Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed. Muslims are required to fast for 12 hours (from sunrise to sunset, not taking in any kind of food or drink) every day for the entire month. The purpose of fasting is for purification and self-restraint; fasting is not meant to penalize the body but to strengthen the mind.
By cutting ourselves off from many comforts that we take for granted, we gain sympathy for those who go hungry and have no choice in the matter. For example, many of us do not keep in mind that Arizona is ranked 44th in the nation for the percentage of people who live in poverty, and participating in an event where individuals get a greater sense of what the poor have to go through every day helps compassion levels rise.
Excused from fasting are those who are sick, traveling, too young, too old, women who are pregnant, and those who are not otherwise physically or mentally capable. Avoiding anger, controlling the temper and showing compassion are also part of the requirements of fasting.
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar (as opposed to the Western solar) calendar, and therefore Ramadan starts 11 days earlier each year. This year Ramadan starts Wednesday.
In order to educate the UA community about the Islamic faith, the Muslim Student Association will host a "Fastathon," which will work to combine charity and fasting, two of Islam's five pillars (the others being belief in one God, praying five times a day and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca).
This year the Fastathon will be held Oct. 18, and people of all backgrounds are welcome to come and join us. For every person who signs up to fast, local businesses will give a donation to the Community Food Bank (those participating in the fast themselves will not directly donate money). Last year, our very own campus raised $1,000 for the food bank, thanks to everyone who was willing to volunteer.
Events like this one give Muslims the opportunity to teach others the true aspects of Islam, demonstrating values of compassion and charity by trying to bring awareness to the issues of hunger and homelessness in our own communities. At the end of the day, those who are fasting are provided a free dinner and a chance to interact with fellow Muslim UA students.
We left comment cards at the event last year, and many non-Muslim fasters were delighted at their experience.
"It was a totally new experience, and there were temptations everywhere, but this is for a good cause and I didn't even cheat once!" said one participant.
Said another, "It was difficult. The hardest part was not being able to drink. My mind kept wondering to those who must fast, not by will but because they are not as fortunate to have all that I do. It was an enriching, humbling experience."
I believe events like these allow for American Muslims to show others that we can be model citizens while also providing a great way for students (who are usually tight on money anyway) to help out the food bank.
So come and participate. Learn about the Islamic faith. What have you got to lose? It's an opportunity to experience fasting for just 12 hours so someone else less fortunate won't have to (not to mention that there's free food at the end).
Miriam Hoda is a physiological sciences senior and the student coordinator for the Muslim Student Association. If you would like to be featured in "Writing in the margins," please contact us at email@example.com.