Mohammed Zaidan grew up in Portland, and began fasting in his early teenager years. He said he felt connected with his Muslim community in doing so. Growing up, he moved to a predominantly Christian neighborhood, but continued practicing his faith. Now a senior, Zaidan helped organize Ramadan Night at the University of Oregon.
Ramadan is a month in which Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset and abstain from drinking, smoking, sexual activities and negativity, said Zaidan, a senior and president of the Muslim Student Association. The purpose, he said, is to reconnect spiritually with God.
On Friday evening around 200 students, faculty and Eugene community members gathered in the Ford Alumni Center Ballroom for Ramadan Night, a celebration of the Islamic holy month. The Muslim and Saudi Student Associations co-hosted the event, during which Muslims came together for Iftar, the evening meal during which they break fast.
“What I love about Ramadan, everyone [in Saudi Arabia] is fasting. It feels really holy,” said sophomore Abdullah Alibrahim, vice president of the Saudi Student Association. In Eugene, “as a student, I don’t feel it at all.” Alibrahim said he hoped this event would help him feel more connected to his faith while teaching others about the month’s significance.
For Ramadan Night, everyone was welcome to participate in the evening and learn about the traditions of the Muslim holiday. The evening began with a recitation of the Quran. Photos with informative captions, traditional clothing and other decorations were hung throughout the ballroom to provide more context.
The student associations also invited several speakers to discuss the importance of Ramadan. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis spoke and shared her experience of studying and working in the Middle East. She said she was taken aback by the hospitality of the people there and being at the event was “like a homecoming.”
Ibrahim Al Hamide, University of Oregon alumnus and owner of Eugene restaurant Café Soriah, spoke about why Muslims fast during Ramadan: “Because God told us to. It’s that simple.”
He also said that fasting can bring about many benefits. People may lose weight or lower their blood pressure and are just generally nicer to each other, he said. Hamide said fasting gives Muslims power over their desires.
Finally, Irum Ibrahim, a photographer, writer and journalist from Detroit, shared a passage of her book, “Nothing to Summit.” She spoke about how as a young girl, she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and in college, found herself wanting to be closer to God and turned to writing to connect with her faith.
Later, Alibrahim introduced Gargee’an, a celebration that occurs in the middle of Ramadan. Children wear traditional Islamic clothing and go door-to-door to ask for candy. Alibrahim showed a couple of videos while others passed out candy bags to attendees.
After a prayer, attendees were dismissed for dinner, which was catered by Hoda’s Lebanese restaurant in Portland. Guests were served traditional Middle Eastern food and desserts to break their fast.
“I fast because it’s part of my identity and it’s what I grew up with. It’s something I’m proud to do, mostly to rebuild that spiritual relationship with God, or Allah, and as well just put myself in the same shoes as what people around the world go through and to appreciate what I have,” said Zaidan.
In Eugene, Zaidan feels that connection through events like Ramadan Night and with his club. “Whether it’s at the mosque or with Muslim students, I definitely do have that sense of community,” he said.