On Wednesday August 8, in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, the Sydney University Muslim Student Association (SUMSA) held its annual Iftar dinner where Muslim students could come and break fast. It truly was an event of scale, attracting around 250 people and requiring effectively the entirety of the International Student Lounge.
Things began with people excitedly gathering just before sunset. After a few minutes of prayers and a beautiful recitation of the Qur’an, the hungry hastily formed a long queue for a glorious dinner of lasagne, rice with spicy chicken, salad and potatoes as well as dates and tea.
After eating at tables roaring with good humour and ecstatic chatter, people rushed back for dessert: baklava, cakes, chocolate coconut balls, Anzac biscuits and caramel slices. At one point in the dinner, there was a call for donations to go towards medical packs for Syrian doctors, raising an impressive $1,380.
As the holiest month of year, when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk, Ramadan is a very special time. Abstaining from physical pleasures to instead focus the heart on spiritual pleasures is an ancient practice aimed at focusing the spiritual journey. Given the emphasis on breaking fast with others, the Iftars of Ramadan are also exceptional for building a vibrant community.
It was this celebration of community that most impressed me. At a large university in a big city that can be so often lonely and alienating, in an Anglo culture often seemingly cold and reserved, it was extremely impressive to see the warmth and generosity of spirit offered to us by complete strangers.
I met Bakhytzhan, an international student from Kazakhstan studying nanoscience, who shared his faith from the deep humility of his heart. Ziyad, a friend of mine, busily engaged in serving food and then cleaning up whilst Ahmad, an international student from Saudi Arabia, tested my Arabic skills.
The SUMSA Iftar was fantastic and I highly recommend all students find an Iftar before Ramadan ends. They are held after 5pm at mosques, at some community organisations and by SUMSA here on campus each day at the Muslim prayer room (Old Teacher’s College, Room 320). You will be warmly welcomed as a friend, as I was. It will be an experience socially and spiritually fulfilling, not to mention filling!