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Banquet celebrates end of Ramadan with diverse group of Cornellians

To celebrate the end of Ramadan, more than 250 students, faculty and family members of different faiths came together at the annual Eid Banquet in Statler Hall, Oct. 14, to pray and eat together. For most it also ended a month of fasting.

Eid al-Fitr is a three-day Muslim holiday that marks the conclusion of a month of spiritual reflection, prayer and abstinence with a feast. Literally a "celebration to break fast," Eid is an occasion to reflect upon and share the achievements of the past month.

The event, sponsored by the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, brought Muslims together from as far away as Pakistan and Togo. There were also non-Muslims, such as President David Skorton who noted at the start of the banquet that "sharing a meal together is a means of reaching across borders." He reminded the audience that it is more important than ever to "understand and engage unfamiliar cultures."

Indeed, conversations over the Indian food ranged from the difference between Islam in African countries and South Asia to explanations about the background and purpose of Ramadan.

The banquet started with a traditional Quranic recitation, from chapter 59, verses 18-24, by Hafiz Taha Khan, a 17-year-old student from an Islamic boarding school in Buffalo, N.Y., who has memorized the entire Quran as well as the intricate and complex rules of recitation.

Following the meal, the daily sunset prayer (the Magrib) was recited. This is one of the five regular daily prayers that Muslims offer.

Omer Bajwa, who was recently appointed as Cornell's first Muslim chaplain, said Ramadan is based on the principle that "a level of physical discipline ultimately leads to spiritual discipline, which leads to spiritual illumination." To get closer to God, fasting embraces the "privileging of the soul over the body." He pointed out that in a world that is focused on the indulgence of every appetite, a world in which hedonism, materialism and consumerism are dominant, Ramadan teaches Muslims that spirituality takes precedence over physical satisfaction. The keynote speaker, Shawkat Toorawa, Cornell associate professor of Near Eastern studies, spoke of Eid as a "return to origins," when Muslims, cleansed by fasting and reflection, re-enter the world with renewed faith and vigor.

Mahmoud Hassan, a Cornell Ph.D. student in animal sciences from Niger, remarked that "seeing people from other cultures celebrating Eid" and learning first-hand about Islam was the best part of the feast.

Other co-sponsors of the event included the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the International Soccer Club and Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Chandni Navalkha '10 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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