Students fast during Ramadan to renew faith

By Halyse Domencic

Husseni Ucar won’t eat pizza in the William Pitt Union’s Schenley Café or the fried chicken… Husseni Ucar won’t eat pizza in the William Pitt Union’s Schenley Café or the fried chicken in the Cathedral Café, at least not between sunrise and sunset.Ucar, a graduate student in the engineering school, is a practicing Muslim and is thus celebrating the month of Ramadan until Sept. 20.

During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast by refraining from anything considered excessive or ill-natured by the religion.

“Fasting is being away from eating, drinking and having relations with your wife,” said Mahmut Demir, vice president of Pitt’s Intercultural Dialogue Group and an executive board member of the Turkish Cultural Center of Pittsburgh.. “These are not permitted from sunrise to sunset.”

The Quran, the Islamic holy book, instructs Muslims to participate in an obligatory fast as a means of purifying the soul and renewing their faith.“When I’m fasting, I’m very desperate,” Ucar said. “When you eat in this time, you appreciate the power of Allah, or God.

The Turkish center and the Intercultural Dialogue Group have hosted Ramadan dinners, called Iftar, on the Cathedral of Learning lawn at 7:50 p.m. every day since Wednesday. Their last dinner will be tonight, in a white tent that can hold up to 100 people. Muslims prepare for their fast by having a meal called Sahur between 4 and 5 a.m. each day during Ramadan.

“Being awake in very early times of the day while others are sleeping makes it kind of special,” Demir said. “Since the neighborhood, streets and city are quiet, body and soul feel the bringings of the holy month clearer.”

Families, students and residents from all over Pittsburgh attend the dinners, and some have attended the dinners each day.

During the meal, the organizations play traditional Muslim prayer music as they serve lines of fasting participants. The awaiting tables are equipped with cups, bowls, bread, soda and water.

Outside of the tent Saturday, Reyyan Yeniterzi waited patiently at the end of the line.

A CMU student pursuing a doctorate in computer science, she said it was her first time in the United States during Ramadan.

“These events are important. We can’t eat during the day, and through this we learn about patience,” Yeniterzi said.

Many of the challenges of Ramadan occur during fasting hours, as Muslims also cannot drink water.

“Being thirsty challenges us more than being hungry,” Demir said. “August is a warm month and days are longer — that makes it a little bit difficult to cope with.”Ramadan began Aug. 22.

Fasting makes up a large portion of Ramadan, but Muslims also perform a number of other tasks.

“Ramadan is a month of spiritual deepening and tranquility,” Demir said.

While carrying a cross, Muslims recite each chapter of the Quran, which adds up to 30 chapters for the month. In the evening, they also say a prayer called Teravih.

“That prayer lasts for about two hours. Body gets a little bit tired, but spirit is fed by the light emanating from the Quran,” Demir said.

During these times, Muslims find it important to come together, according to Ucar, who said he tries to attend the Ramadan dinners every night.

“It’s a good place,” he said. “We collect in a community, share each other’s feelings, and those are all good things.”