SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – Wittenberg University hosted its first-ever Community Iftar, a meal after a day of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, on Oct. 11. Organized by Professor of Sociology Jerry Pankhurst and students from his Islam and Islamic Societies class, the dinner, which was attended by more than 100 people, provided an opportunity for Wittenberg community members to celebrate and learn about Ramadan.
“My students and I decided to sponsor the event as a way to share our studies of Islam and Islamic Societies with other students and other members of Wittenberg, and to underline the importance of the ties between Wittenberg and the Springfield Muslim community,” Pankhurst said. “I believe that we succeeded in our goals.”
The dinner opened with a short welcome by Pankhurst. Guests were then invited to partake of an array of Islamic foods while listening to two speakers, starting with Springfield resident Akber Mohammed, who gave a short presentation about the important Islamic holiday.
“Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar,” said Mohammed, a local cardiologist. “Ramadan marks the first month when Allah began revealing his message to Prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan the gates of paradise are open and the gates of hell are closed and the Satan is chained.”
Mohammed touched on many different aspects of Ramadan. His presentation included wisdom on fasting in Ramadan, spiritual and moral boot camp, proper behavior when fasting and nightly prayer.
“Islam, in general, is very misunderstood. The only way to turn that around is to talk to Muslims so that we can finally understand their religion from their point of view, not what the newspapers would like us to believe,” said Erin Pecsok, class of 2007 from Brooklyn, Ohio.
The second speaker of the night was Mustafaa Islam, the Imam at the An-Nur Islamic Center in Springfield. Islam spoke to audience members about his experience practicing Islam in America.
During the question and answer session, slightly more personal and informal conversation was cultivated. Members of the Muslim community were eager to share their experiences in America.
“I’ve raised a family here in America,” said audience member Parveen Mohammed from Springfield. “It’s the simple things like going to a doctor’s office when the child is asked to pick a sticker. They always have all the holidays represented except Ramadan.
“There are no festivity items in stores when it is our time to celebrate. I understand that most things run on consumer demand. Hallmark has recently begun to recognize Ramadan and started carrying cards.”
The night’s events concluded with an open invitation to the Wittenberg and Springfield community to visit both mosques represented at the event.
“Dr. Pankhurst and his students in Islam and Islamic Societies created an evening that honored Muslim traditions, while also serving to educate the non-Muslim guests,” said Darlene Brooks Hedstrom, assistant professor of history. “I hope that the Community Iftar becomes a regular event as Wittenberg engages with the local community and more Muslim students can celebrate their beliefs within the university.
“The graciousness with which members of the community willingly shared their experiences of observing Ramadan was a demonstration to me of the need to encourage more opportunities to celebrate religious diversity in our country and on our campus.”
Pankhurst agreed that the event offered a new opportunity for understanding and interaction among diverse cultures.
“I was pleased with the large turnout for Wittenberg’s Community Iftar,” Pankhurst said. “I was especially glad to see so much conversation between people from the community and students and staff from Wittenberg. I hope that everyone enjoyed the event and learned something new about Islam as well.”
By: Kimie James '07
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