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Interfaith ‘fast-a-thon’ brings 80 Hamilton youth together to experience Ramadan

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan now underway, events to celebrate, break the evening fast or give back to community are taking place nearly every evening in around the Hamilton area. 

A Saturday event is a first for the Muslim Association of Hamilton’s youth society, as it brings together young people of all backgrounds for an interfaith “fast-a-thon” to fundraise for Turkey-Syria earthquake relief and raise awareness about Ramadan itself, said one of the organizers Aida Taha, 22.

“In Hamilton there’s a huge Muslim community,” Taha said. “[But] our youth have mentioned that Ramadan is not really recognized in their schools, so they wanted to introduce their peers to that experience.”

Two women in headscarves smile.
Kawthar Taha, left, and Aida Taha, right, are part of the Muslim Association of Hamilton’s youth society, which is organizing its first-ever interfaith fast-a-thon Saturday. (Submitted by Aida Taha)

Around 80 young people aged 14 to 25 have registered for the event, which as of Friday had so far raised $400, Taha said. The group is fasting during the day and then after evening prayer and sunset, will break their fast together over Pakistani and Arab food, such as Biryani chicken, dips, kababs, salads and for dessert, tradition sweets like rice pudding. 

The youth society partnered with local public and Catholic high schools to spread the word.

“We just wanted to help introduce non-Muslims to the culture and the idea of fasting and what it means to us,” said Taha, who said Catholic schools in particular seemed open to fasting with them due to their own experience with Lent. 

Taha said the local Muslim community has grown “exponentially” in recent years, especially since welcoming Syrian refugees from 2015 onwards, but there still feels like a lack of recognition of student needs in particular during Ramadan.

“It’s not treated the same way, [the youth] feel like. There’s not a lot of excitement about it, the way they see Christmas… Some of the youth mention they have to fight for time off during Eid,” Taha said. 

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. The fast ends each day with an iftar meal, commonly shared with others. This year, Ramadan began on March 22 at sunset and ends with Eid al-Fitr on April 20. 

Taha and her team prepared a “fasting guide and tips for the big day,” for those who are participating. It includes a description of Ramadan, saying the fast is “first, a lesson in humility” and the month includes “going into overdrive with good deeds.”

A printed pamphlet is shown, with a description of what Ramadan is and fasting tips.
The event Saturday aims to share what Ramadan is all about. (Submitted by Aida Taha)

The “dos” and “don’ts” of fasting, according to the group: 

  • Do eat a suhoor (the meal eaten before sunrise) with plenty of protein and fat to help keep energized. 
  • Do drink water in the last moments before starting to fast.
  • Do plan a nap, a walk or a fun distracting activity.

Meanwhile, it says:

  • Don’t fast if you are ill, or taking medications that require food.
  • Don’t fast if you will be doing intense manual labour outdoors.

Tickets for the Saturday event in Hamilton cost $10 and participants are encouraged to also donate what they’d otherwise spend on food that day.

The gathering will take place at the Mountain Mosque, 1545 Stone Church Rd. E. and begins at 7 p.m.

It is one of several others this week — Orchard Park’s Muslim Student Association is also hosting a community Iftar Potluck on April 5 at 7 p.m. 

Imam Sayed Tora, with the Hamilton Downtown Mosque, said there are also youth-organized daily meals to break the fast at the mosque, serving an Iftaar meal for around 250 to 300 people each night.

The McMaster Muslim Student Association is also hosting daily Iftaars and called upon its members to support others this month by donating meals, food or gift cards.

“We are urgently calling upon our MacMSA community to aid the number of food insecure Muslim families within the GTA,” it said.

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