Students and faculty met at sundown on Sept. 16 to break their day-long fasts, a pledge for charity in light of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Fast-A-Thon’s goal was to generate money to help educate girls in South and Central Asia.
This is the third year the Muslim Student Association (MSA) has held its annual Fast-A-Thon. Each year students pledge to fast for one day from sunrise to sundown. In return, MSA asks local businesses to donate one dollar for each fasting pledge to the Barakat Foundation, a non-profit working to improve the lives of marginalized groups in South and Central Asia.
Barakat, a word which literally means “blessings” in Arabic, is a Massachusetts-based organization that marked its beginnings in 1987. Its mission is to help women and children by providing access to education and a healthy environment in the form of female education and literacy programs, as well as ecological preservation measures.
A chapter has recently opened on campus.
“Our semester goal is to raise enough money to educate five to 10 girls. It takes approximately $40 to educate each girl for one year,” said Pernian Faheem, the chapter president of Barakat and MSA treasurer.
The MSA is currently looking for businesses to sponsor the pledges, and hope they will donate at least one dollar per Fast-A-Thon participant. The fundraiser additionally received $42 through donations from individuals in the Mills community.
The Fast-A-Thon is also held “So people can learn more about the MSA and Islamic culture. Ramadan is extremely sacred, it marks your devotion to God, and how much you can give up for him,” said Faheem. “You fast to remember the poor, look at the important things in life, and be more spiritual than otherwise. It is a month long, from one full moon to the next. You fast from dawn to sunset.”
The event, which was held in the Student Union, began with a prayer, and was followed by a meal of dates, lentil soup, salad, rice, beef kofta (meatballs) in a tomato-based sauce with vegetables, steamed vegetables and baklava. The food was donated by Julie’s Healthy Cafe in Berkeley, right across from the UC Berkeley campus. The restaurant is Muslim-owned, and also hosts the UC Berkeley MSA’s daily iftars (fast-break dinners) during Ramadan.
“We’re looking forward to next year’s Fast-A-Thon and hope to make a few improvements as far as increased vegetarian options and using more environmentally-sustainable materials,” said Sahar Momand, MSA president.
Other traditions were also incorporated into the dinner. The handmade construction-paper lanterns on the tables were the result of a Ramadan craft that is based on the traditional use of real lanterns to decorate people’s houses and streets during this holy month.
During the dinner, participants shared their experiences and lessons from fasting.
“It was pretty hard to remember I was fasting. I gained an appreciation for people who fast for the whole month. I would do it again,” said Michelle Arauz, a sophomore and ASMC Accountant who has pledged before.
Other students who are not accustomed to fasting for Ramadan also found it challenging.
“It was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to remember to wake up before sunrise,” said Amanda Christenson, a sophomore who also pledged last year.
For Muslims, Ramadan is a time to focus on worshiping God, study the Qur’an, donate to charity and purify one’s behavior. Fasting is a secondary goal that develops sympathy for the less fortunate by experiencing hunger.
“The tradition of fasting is family and community oriented. I thought fasting at Mills would be different in a bad way, but through the Fast-A-Thon and Mills community, the experience is similar to having your family and friends from home around you,” said Momand.
The Fast-A-Thon began under the previous MSA president, and has continued under the guidance of Momand.
“I loved the tradition and thought it should carry on. Fasting involves your whole day. It is a great opportunity to connect with your peers,” said Momand.
“I am so proud of this group, its dedication, sense of generosity and devotion to causes of social justice. I hope more folks in the Mills community will partake in the communal rituals of fasting and feasting,” said Brinda Mehta, a French professor and the MSA faculty advisor.