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Muslim students observe Ramadan

Rohan Anand | Wednesday, October 4, 2006

University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh spoke Monday night to several dozen non-Christian students on the campus of the nation’s most prominent Catholic school.

Emphasizing the similarities between the world’s major monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – Hesburgh ended his talk by speaking directly to the 40 members of the Notre Dame Muslim Student Association (MSA) in attendance at the Coleman-Morse Center.

“I hope that you can help our other [non-Muslim] students understand you,” he said. “We have to respect each other’s consciences, and we all want to foster the spirit of peace in the world.”

This message carried the MSA into its annual Ramadan dinner that evening, held to celebrate Islam’s month-long period of daytime fasting, which began Sept. 23. Sponsored by Campus Ministry, the students gathered to break the fast after sunset, joined by Hesburgh, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs William Kirk and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jean Lenz.

After washing in a fountain – a pre-prayer ritual called “wudu” – the group members gathered in the center’s multipurpose cross-cultural room to pray to Mecca. Professor Abdul Rashied Omar, research scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute, led the service.

“Ramadan commemorates the month where the Koran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad,” said junior Danyal Kareem. “We [Muslims] attempt to make our will power stronger, like mind over matter, and become stronger every year.”

During each day of fasting, Muslims are required to fast during the sunlight hours, and also are to abstain from smoking, sexual intercourse, lying, stealing, cheating or backstabbing.

“I think it’s the best time of year, because you have nothing else to think or worry about,” said sophomore Sohaib Hashmi. “It’s just prayer and fast.”

After the prayer, the students gathered in the student lounge for a halal (an Islamic dietary requirement similar to kosher) Middle-Eastern dinner.

During the meal, administrators invited those in attendance to share their sentiments about the MSA program at Notre Dame.

Both students and faculty expressed gratitude for the existence of MSA on campus, many saying it serves as a very positive reinforcement in their faith life.

“The average Muslim student can fit comfortably at Notre Dame because it’s a religious institution and the school is very welcoming to different students of different cultures,” Omar said.

The students also said they appreciated the administrators’ presence at the dinner and recognized their support for the organization.

“The administration and students have been so accepting of Muslims and Jews,” said second-year MBA student Aziz Alikulov. “I am so moved by the spirit of this school.”

MSA secretary and second-year grad student Shawn Ahmed agreed.

“As a Catholic college, Notre Dame has been more welcoming, more accepting, and more supportive of Muslim students than most secular colleges,” Ahmed said. “It’s not surprising that [Muslim students] love being here.”

The club is already planning an event for the final day of Ramadan, known as Eid, which will likely be a celebration at the local mosque in Michiana.

Future plans entail religious presentations about Islamic culture and prayer. Ahmed said he feels sharing his understanding of Islam is important, because the image of Muslims portrayed in the media is often foreign to him.

“There are over one billion Muslims around the world and it is understandable, although regrettable, that the kind of Muslims people see in the media are the small minority of those who are fanatical and commit acts of terrorism,” he said. “Islam is a religion of peace. It is just as hard for Muslims to make sense of such extremism and

violence as it is for non-Muslims.”

Grad student Hisham Soliman, an M.A. in Peace Studies, said he thinks this greater understanding can also be achieved by implementing some changes in the Islamic academic programs at Notre Dame.

“I hope there will someday be a department in Islamic Studies and the peaceful aspects of the religion will be shown,” Soliman said. “Right now, only Islamic ethics are studied, but a revision will express the entire religion itself, and not just a single spectrum of it.”

Hesburgh agreed that there is a need to bring more Islamic scholars to Notre Dame to bring about such changes. For now, he said he is pleased that Muslim students are proud to be members of the Notre Dame community.

“Muslims in America paint the true picture of Islam,” Hesburgh said, “and I think that at a Catholic university, we’re all praying to the same God, and we have a lot to learn from each other.”