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Muslim Students Reflect on Month of Ramadan

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Executive Editor

The end of February marked the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, in which able-bodied Muslims abstain from eating or drinking anything from sunup to sunset as an act of submission to God and exercise in self control.

As Ramadan ended this week with its traditional celebration, called Eid, Muslim MIT students took a look back and reflected on what the month meant to them.

Many associated the month with a sense of comraderie developed in part through the post-sunset breakfast gatherings that are a daily feature of Ramadan. The Muslim Students Association prepares these dinner/breakfast banquets throughout the month, said MSA Treasurer Yassir K. Elley G.

"For me, especially at MIT, I always look forward to this time of year because we hold breakfast with each other," Elley said. "It's a very nice feeling."

The breakfasts "served a very useful social role [letting] students get to know each other. You're eating with the same people for a month. That's something you miss when Ramadan is over," he said.

While the self control of fasting without food or drink for a twelve-hour day requires obvious physical restraint, Ramadan is not just the act of fasting, students said.

People must learn to "curb desires to eat [and] drink - basic needs," Elley said. "But it's not just that; that's the easy part." The hard part is making "an extra special effort to try to be extra virtuous in everyday things like honesty," Elley said. Keeping such full control is "harder, in fact, than to control not eating or drinking."

Asim I. Khwaja '95 agreed that the physical fasting is "not a big deal," although it can make physically demanding activities such as sports more difficuly.

What's more important is striving to be pure and virtuous: "You have to act as in control of your emotions as you can," Khwaja said. "It's not a matter of starving yourself; it's a matter of controlling your desires. That's the harder part."

"It's not only a physical fast; it's a spiritual fast," Elley said. "We fast so that we can learn self-restraint, so that we increase our consciousness of God," he said. "It's a lot more than just not eating or drinking."

Another aspect of fasting is the feeling it gives of empathy with the poor, hungry, and less fortunate, said Muhammad M. Qubbaj '98. In this way, the practice brings people together, he said.

Ramadan is "a very religious month," Khwaja said. "It's a good time to get [away] from studies for awhile and look at yourself from a less MIT-like perspective," he said. "It's a nice break."

Ramadan is a month when "we can sort-of [replenish] our spiritual stores, re-energize for the upcoming year. It gives us a boost," Elley said. "Hopefully, we'll stay up there for the rest of the year."

In many Muslim countries, the Eid celebration that ends Ramadan is marked as a state holiday. Several people expressed sadness that the same is not the case at MIT. "It's kind of sad" that when Ramadan is over, "it's the same MIT again," Khwaja said. "No one has any idea that you're celebrating anything."

"Back to the grind," Elley said.