Ramadan at HBS

Two RC students reflect on Ramadan, the month of fasting, after attending the HBS Islamic Society’s annual Iftar Dinner.

The sun began its descent into the horizon as almost 100 HBS students gathered in the One Western Common Room. Images of Ramadan around the world were on display on a screen in the center of the room. Among them were images of the prayer, reflection, and commerce associated with Ramadan. EC Sofina Qureshi began the evening’s program with an impromptu tutorial of the Islamic exchange of greetings, “Assalaam alaikum,” or, “Peace and blessings be upon you,” followed by a short welcome address. Afterward, the significance of Ramadan was discussed at length by EC Tarek Saghir. Tarek’s informative words were directed at the guests, but they were poignant reminders of the virtues of fasting and reflection for all the Muslims in attendance as well. At 6:55 p.m., it was announced that the sun had set and it was time for everyone to join the Muslims as they broke their fasts. Dates and milk were passed for all to enjoy while EC Yasser Salem turned his head toward Mecca and gave the athan-the Muslim call to prayer.

As the dates and milk quickly raised the blood sugar of the fasting students, the spirits of all those in attendance were heightened in anticipation of the meal to come. The catered meal was an array of traditional Persian delicacies-kabobs of lamb, beef, and chicken along with rice, grilled vegetables and hummus. Attendees ate together in small clusters in the intimate space-anyone walking by the diverse groups heard stimulating conversations taking place throughout. 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.

Breaking one’s fast in a communal gathering is highly encouraged during the month of Ramadan to build a sense of community during the holiest time of the year. On this evening, the gathering served an additional purpose-the dozens of guests of other faiths were invited to witness the fast-breaking and learn from the Muslims at HBS. Inter-faith gatherings during Ramadan, such as this one, are becoming more common as a diverse American society shows solidarity with the growing Muslim community. On September 2, President Obama invited scores of Muslims for Iftar Dinner at the White House, a tradition that President Clinton began in his second term. At this year’s White House Iftar Dinner, President Obama acknowledged the contributions of Muslims in America.

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.

This year, the month of Ramadan commenced on August 21st, and culminated on September 20th with Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marked the end of the holy month. The celebration, one of the two most important Islamic holidays, consists of a morning prayer service followed by a day of feasting with family and friends-a marked contrast from the preceding month. Charity and good deeds are an integral component of the Islamic faith. They have special significance during the month of Ramadan. Throughout the month, Muslims shared 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. Eid Mubarak!

The Islamic Society would like to extend a special thanks to McKinsey’s Middle East office for its 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

September 28, 2009