The sun finally set in the skies. It was 6:24 p.m. EC Toufik Khadir stood in front of more than 100 HBS colleagues gathered in 1 Western Common Room, turned his head toward Mecca and gave the azan – the Muslim call to prayer. Everyone gathered close as Islamic Society co-President, Mansoor Panawala, passed around delectable Medjool dates (the large chewy variety from California considered by many, including myself, as the Mercedes Benz of dry fruit). “This is how Muslims around the world traditionally break their fasts, so please join us as we break ours here tonight”, he said. And so each person in the room proceeded to “break their fasts”, as Mansoor continued to welcome everyone to the annual HBS-wide Ramadan Iftaar held on Wednesday, October 3rd. The Islamic Society hosts the event each year, both to celebrate Ramadan among friends as well as educate the HBS community on the virtues of observing the month of fasts along with the holiday that marks its culmination, Eid ul-Fitr.
During the month of Ramadan, all physically able Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Ramadan is particularly special to the Muslim community because it was within this holy month that the Qur’an was revealed, as related by the excerpt: “Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting.” (Quran 2:185).
The fast is regarded principally as a method of self-purification as is noted by the verse “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,” (Quran 2:183). The aforementioned verse highlights the fact that fasting is not a new concept, nor one unique to the Muslim community; indeed, fasting is part of a long tradition practiced for centuries by Jewish and Christian communities, among others. Through cutting oneself off from worldly comforts – even for a short time – a fasting person gains true sympathy for those who do not have access to food and drink whenever they desire. In addition, through fasting, a measure of ascendancy is given to one’s spiritual nature which becomes a means of coming closer to God. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five “pillars” of Islam, accompanied by the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
This year, the Islamic Society was very fortunate to have had the event co-sponsored by MENA (Middle East and North Africa club), SABA (the South Asian Business Association) and McKinsey’s Middle East office (who was generous enough to foot the entire bill). As everyone continued to chew their sweet and delicious dates, co-Presidents from MENA and SABA, Riad Armonious and Raj Bhatt, followed Mansoor in welcoming the guests. RC Marwan Chaar spoke next about the benefits of fasting and Umaimah Mendhro followed with a short appeal about a non-profit she had founded, “dreamfly” (www.thedreamfly.org), with the preliminary goal of building a school for the children in Akri, her father’s village in Pakistan. At long last -after a long fast – dinner was served.
Aluminum pans filled to the brim with mouth-watering kebabs of the shish, koubideh and chicken varieties, as well as rice, bread, and several vegetarian appetizers were swiftly unveiled (note: food was catered by Jasmine – Taste of Persia, an excellent restaurant in Watertown). Guests filled their plates and scattered, either standing around the room or enjoying the beautiful weather in the seating area outside, a much coveted chance to catch up with friends and fellow students after a long day. A number of professors also honored us with their attendance, giving students a valuable opportunity to chat with them and ask questions in an informal setting.
Students came and went over the course of two hours. By the end of the evening, close to 200 people had made there way to the iftaar dinner for the opportunity to “break fast” with the Muslim students at HBS. The diversity and sheer number of attendees at the Iftaar event demonstrated the openness and multi-cultural values espoused by the broader HBS community. It would have been difficult for anyone to tell which student group was hosting the event as there was such a mixture of ethnicities present. We hope that those who came this year enjoyed the food and company and that those who could not join us are able to enjoy the tradition next year.
The month of Ramadan came to an end last weekend with one of the two most important Islamic holidays, Eid ul-Fitr. The celebration always begins with the sighting of the new moon on the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. Whereas charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making charitable contributions, coloring the holiday festivities with a sense of generosity and gratitude – an apt reflection of a month spent worshipping their Creator.