Ramadhan is a particularly interesting time of year in the West because religious expression extends over the course of the whole day. As a result, questions will always arise in classrooms and workplaces, such as "Why aren't you coming out with us for lunch? How come you're leaving work at this time? Why are you never home in the evenings?"
Some answer with awkwardness or deliberation, and fail to provide good answers. Consequently, an excellent opportunity for educating people about Islam becomes lost. This feeling generally prevails when we develop a sense of disconnect from the lives and practices of non-Muslims; we feel that since we don't want to be involved with their activities, we don't them involved in our activities. Unfortunately, this only further alienates the community, and makes it harder for such opportunities to arise again in the future. This is a major problem within the Muslim community, and needs to change.
In the past, I've always been fairly up front regarding my beliefs and practices, but this year I wanted to take it a step further. Weeks before Ramadhan began, I started talking about it around the office, in elevators, and wherever else would I find myself. I work for a large consulting firm, and before Ramadhan began, my whole team knew about it and kept asking if it had begun yet.
So when it finally did, I was amazed when some of my non-Muslim colleagues expressed interest in fasting for a day themselves. I did not need to convince anyone or even encourage them, but of their own volition, they agreed to try it at least once. This was an opportunity not only to help others become more understanding of Muslims, but to engage them in a Muslim experience. To this end, I contacted the Ottawa Food Bank to turn this day of fasting into a charity event, where my whole team would fast, and others would contribute to a worthy cause in support of it. I was calling it Fast-a-thon, as the event was similar to ones organized by some MSA's with that name, but others called it Ramathon as an homage to the month of Ramadhan.
We set the day of fasting to be Wednesday, October 19th. I did not want the fasting to affect the productivity of my colleagues, so I told them that they could cheat if they really needed to, but they insisted on going through with it fully. On that day, they all woke up at 5:30am for an early meal, and then fasted from just before 6:00am to sunset at 6:14pm. They even avoided brushing their teeth during the hours of fasting, something many Muslims fail to do even though it is considered to be makruh, or undesirable. (See here.)
Two of them could not get by without at least water, so they drank throughout the course of the day. Even then, they strictly avoided any other drink entirely. The rest made the full fast until sunset. Most of them found it very difficult, with one wondering whether just licking an apple would break the fast. In the end, they made it through, and we broke our fast with dates and Timbits.
One noted, "It's strange we never see Faraz complaining about this."
Another replied, "Yeah, but he's got Allah."
Throughout the day, there was a buzz around the office, with everyone asking about the progress of the fast and the charity efforts; we had two donation boxes set up around the office and another at a client site. In the end, we raised just over 250$ for the Ottawa Food Bank, an impressive amount considering our rushed preparation. In spite of the fact that it was very difficult for most of the non-Muslim fasters, some were already talking about holding such an event next year with better preparation and more participation.
The Fastathon website expresses their vision as one of a nation as one that is not only accepting of Islam and Muslims, but one that is better because of them. This should be the vision of all Muslims living in North America. We tend to complain about injustice and intolerance and condemn whatever we find condemnable, but we have done very little to alleviate the problems. We lose ourselves in rhetoric, and our action falls short as a result. In the past, entire nations accepted Islam not because they were simply tolerant of it, but because they realized that society as a whole was better with Islam.
Huge thanks go out to CC, TT, TB, and JM for their patience, support, and dedication! And thanks to everyone else who helped out in supporting the event! I know at least some of you read this.