Ramadan – A Month of Fasting, Charity and Community

The HBS Community Joined the Islamic Society to Celebrate the Month of Ramadan at its Annual Iftaar Event.

The sun finally set in the skies. It was 7:00 p.m. EC Danish Yusuf stood in front of more than 100 HBS colleagues gathered in One Western Common Room, turned his head toward Mecca and gave the athan – the Muslim call to prayer. Everyone gathered close as Islamic Society Co-Presidents, Marwan Chaar and Sumaiya Balbale, passed around Medjool dates, often referred to as the crown jewel of dates. “This is how Muslims around the world traditionally break their fasts, so please join us as we break ours here tonight,” said Sumaiya, as everyone in the room proceeded to “break their fasts,” as they joined the Muslim community for the annual iftaar (fast-breaking) event held on Tuesday, September 9th. The Islamic Society hosts the event each year, both to celebrate Ramadan with our friends and family, but also to share with the HBS community the virtues of this “month of fasting,” the most holy month of the Islamic Calendar.

During Ramadan – the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar – all healthy Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Ramadan’s significance stems from the fact that it was during this holy month that the Qur’anic revelation first commenced, as related by the excerpt: “It was in the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was (first) bestowed from on high as a guidance, and as a standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it.” (Qur’an 2:185).

The principal purpose of Ramadan is spiritual self-purification. “O you who have attained to faith, fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God,” (Qur’an 2:183). The aforementioned verse highlights the act of fasting as a link that binds together various faith-based communities, for indeed, fasting is as much a part of Jewish, Christian and Hindu traditions, as it is of the Muslim tradition. Yet, while the form of this act may differ, the substance is the same: by abstaining from worldly comforts, a fasting person gains an experiential empathy for those who do not have access to food and drink whenever they desire. In addition, a measure of ascendancy is given to one’s spiritual nature which becomes a means of coming closer to God.

As everyone chewed their sweet and delicious dates, RC Sofina Qureshi gave a short talk on the five “pillars” of Islamic faith: declaration of faith (Shahadah), the five daily prayers (Salat), fasting during Ramadan (Sawm), almsgiving (Zakat), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Shortly thereafter, dinner was served.
Aluminum pans filled to the brim with steaming Persian kebabs of the shish, koubideh and chicken varieties, as well as rice, bread, and several vegetarian appetizers were swiftly uncovered, as guests lined up to fill their plates and dispersed to mingle with each other. Some stood around the room, others sat in the seating area enjoying the weather outside, but all reflected the sense of community that Ramadan seeks to harbor. As in years past, professors were also in attendance, giving students and guests a unique opportunity to chat with professors in an informal setting outside of the classroom.

As the evening went on, more students joined the event, so that by the end of the evening, nearly 300 community had made their way to event for the opportunity to “break fast” with Muslim community at HBS. The diversity and sheer number of attendees at the event demonstrated the openness and multi-cultural values espoused by the broader HBS community and the Islamic Society.

This year, Ramadan commenced on September 1st, and will culminate with the holiday that marks its culmination, Eid ul-Fitr, on October 1st. The celebration, one of the two most important Islamic holidays, will begin 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 integral component of the Islamic faith, they have special significance in the last ten days of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims share their blessings by feeding the poor and making charitable contributions, suffusing the holiday festivities with a sense of generosity and gratitude, and reflecting the essence of Ramadan – a month of fasting, charity and community. Ramadan Mubarak!

The Islamic Society would like to give a special thanks to McKinsey’s Middle East office, MENA (HBS’s Middle East and North Africa Club), and SABA (HBS’s South Asian Business Association) for their generous on-going support. For more information about Ramadan or Islam, or to get involved with the HBS Islamic Society, please e-mail us at islm@studentclubs.hbs.edu.