Paige Santiago put a scarf around her head and walked to the back of the room. She stood behind the men, with the Muslim women, and observed as they prayed.
She is Christian, not Muslim, but Islam on Campus’ Fast-A-Thon Thursday night allowed people of different races, religions and cultures break their fasts together.
“It was exciting to get to experience an evening with people who are passionate about their faith in a similar way to how I am about my own,” Santiago said.
Islam on Campus held its 17th annual Fast-A-Thon event and raised $10,500 for Nuday Syria and Gators for Refugee Medical Relief at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Santiago, a 22-year-old UF finance senior and international business master’s student, was one of hundreds who attended.
All 640 seats in the center were filled, said Isra’a Ilyas, Islam on Campus president and a 21-year-old UF industrial engineering senior.
Islam on Campus encouraged both Muslims and non-Muslims to fast for a day and join at sunset to eat together. Ilyas said fasting unifies people because it is part of so many religions. She took the opportunity to show people outside her religion how and why Muslims pray and fast.
“Breaking fast together is symbolic of brotherhood and sisterhood,” Ilyas said.
In Islam, fasting is usually observed during the holy month of Ramadan. Islam follows the lunar calendar, similar to Judaism, so the dates of Ramadan change every year. However, someone can fast whenever they feel they need to, Ilyas said.
“We rise from sunrise to sunset, no food, no water, nothing that would fill your desires in that way because you are focusing on your spiritual desires, spiritual needs,” said Ilyas. “Instead of feeding your body, you feed your soul.”
Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was Fast-A-Thon’s guest speaker. Abdul-Rauf, formerly Chris Jackson, converted to Islam and changed his name by 1993.
Abdul-Rauf grew talked about growing up in what he called the “ghetto” in Gulfport, Mississippi, basketball training from the age of 9 and having Tourette Syndrome – which made him more diligent as a player.
He said he accepted Islam after questioning his own faith during college and reading the autobiography of Malcom X.
“I’m gonna strive to live and die with a free conscious and a free soul whether people like it or not,” Abdul-Rauf said.
Islam on Campus shared a pledge on its Facebook page asking people to pledge to fast from sunrise to sunset on Thursday. Ilyas said 250 people signed, and Islam on Campus donates on behalf of each person who pledges.
The $10,500 raised went to local and international humanitarian charities. Nuday Syria is a nonprofit organization that brings humanitarian aid inside Syria. Gators for Refugee Medical Relief is a student-run nonprofit organization that medical and educational assistance to refugees locally and abroad.
UF President Kent Fuchs spoke about empathy on campus during his speech and how this event demonstrated it.
“If I could wish upon our campus one thing it would be empathy,” he said. “If I could wish for our nation one thing it would be empathy, for our world it would be empathy, understanding others, understanding how others feel, feeling how others feel. Our world would be so different.”