ByGeorge! Online

Dec. 5, 2002

More Alike Than Different

GW’s Muslim and Jewish Students Share A Ceremonial Meal at Sundown

By John Carroll

As the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Marvin Center Ballroom framed a magnificent dusk slowly blanketing Foggy Bottom, a warm feeling of brotherhood and understanding emerged inside. Muslim and Jewish students filled the room to capacity to share in an Iftar, the ceremonial meal at sundown, breaking the daily Ramadan fast. The night was in sharp contrast to events taking place in the Middle East that day, where just hours earlier Israeli forces swept into the West Bank City of Tulkeram and destroyed the home of a senior Palestinian official in retaliation for a weekend attack on an Israeli farm collective.

Separated at tables by gender yet unified by faith, Muslim and Jewish students took their places among each other at this local gathering eagerly awaiting the evening’s remarks — and the food. Muslim students shared the breaking of their daily fast with the traditional offering of dates followed by a Middle Eastern meal, as well as Kosher-approved food. The Muslim expression for wishing peace, “As-salaam Alaikum,” was heard often throughout the evening.

Similar to the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, practicing self control while seeking inner reflection and devotion to God. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, a means of Salvation.” The evening’s Iftar was one of many sponsored by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) during Ramadan, which began Nov. 6 and ends the first week of December.

The ceremony was educational as well as social. Former MSA president and recent religion graduate Faisal Matadar addressed the audience to explain the spiritual significance of fasting during Ramadan. “The person who fasts has two delights,” explained Matadar, paraphrasing a narration from a Muslim prophet. “One delight is breaking the fast. The second delight comes when they meet their lord because they will be rewarded on that day for what they gave up in devotion to their lord.”

He went on to remind students of the important of fasting in modern times as a spiritual discipline. “For people like us living in a community where the prevailing idea is that it is OK to do what you want, it’s an amazing testament to religion and to human spirit that even to this day people will give up things because they really do believe in a higher good.”

Junior Scott Dershowitz spoke briefly on the spiritual importance of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, drawing parallels to Ramadan and echoing Matadar’s emphasis on the virtues of the fast. “The physical absence of food is paralleled by a deeper absence,” said Dershowitz, “Jewish people view food as a means to an end of serving God as well as another reason to bless God. Without food we are able to bless God in one less way… reminding us that we should neither take God nor God’s goodness for granted.”

Also in attendance were University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg; Hatem Atallah, ambassador of Tunisia; Albert Del Rosario, ambassador of the Philippines; and Brett Schor, officer of public affairs and education for the Israeli embassy.

The feeling of solidarity and brotherhood crystallized among the crowd as each speakers’ comments resonated the belief that people are truly more alike than different. This sentiment also echoed amid the chatter at the tables as guests shared a meal and the common bond of faith and spirituality. “All religions have the same basic concept,” said mechanical engineering major Muhammad Umar. “The biggest enemy of mankind is the devil. This should bring us together and show us that the conflicts that are going on all over the world shouldn’t be happening.”

The event was suggested to leaders of the Muslim and Jewish student associations by President Trachtenberg, who stressed the importance of transcending the provocations of events in the Middle East and coming together as children of Abraham. After the meal, Trachtenberg offered words of praise to students. “I hope that The George Washington University serves as an example to our brothers and sisters all over the world,” Trachtenberg said. “When they hear about it they ask themselves, ‘what are we doing wrong?’ ”


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