On Friday night, a small table adorned with black lanterns stood alone in the middle of the Pit.
Slowly, dozens of people began gathering around the table. Attendees chatted with old friends and peers. Laughter and lighthearted conversation echoed from the Pit as those present waited for the UNC Muslim Students Association's lantern lighting to start.
The MSA's lantern lighting event celebrated the beginning of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, marking a period of fasting and reflection.
“The purpose of this lantern lighting is to shed light, literally and metaphorically, on the arrival of this really important and blessed holy month that Muslims all around the world celebrate,” former MSA Vice President Dalal Azzam said in an interview.
There were several speakers present at the lantern lighting.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz opened the celebration with a brief speech in support of the UNC Muslim community and in celebration of this holy time in the Islamic calendar.
Azzam also spoke at the event, emphasizing the importance of unity and community in the month of fasting.
“In Ramadan, you are giving back,” Azzam said in an interview. "In Ramadan, you are going through the fast with your community. And so it really centers your mind back on the community, togetherness, unity. It’s a very rewarding time and it’s a time that really feels like home.”
The lantern lighting also featured a speech from current MSA Vice President Mehmet Hatip. He said he was looking forward to the month ahead and called on community strength to push through the fasting period.
The event concluded with the chancellor and Azzam lighting the lanterns together, signifying that Ramadan at UNC is officially underway.
But Ramadan is not only a period of fasting — the month also involves charity, community service and understanding of people from all backgrounds, MSA Outreach Chairperson Rida Bayraktar said.
“We celebrate the Quran and the religion coming onto humanity by fasting all those days and thanking God and also being more spiritually aware of who we are, what is our purpose in this world and how we move on this earth,” Bayraktar said.
MSA is hosting several events throughout the month of Ramadan.
Every night, Muslim community members pray together in Taraweeh prayer. The nightly prayer is typically done in mosques after people break their fast, Azzam said, and MSA worked with the Student Union to secure a spot for members to pray.
Additionally, MSA is hosting several speakers to discuss ways to incorporate Islam into the daily life of a college student, Azzam said.
MSA has also worked to extend dining hall hours and provide halal food options to accommodate Muslim students participating in fasting.
On April 22, Bayraktar said MSA has planned a “Fast-a-thon” and a large iftar for UNC community members to participate in, regardless of their religion. Iftar is the meal after sunset in which Muslims break their fast.
“We are going to have a big community iftar partnered with the Residence Hall Association to have people from across campus to come and break fast together,” Bayraktar said. “And then that day we will also have the Fast-a-thon, which is that we’re inviting everyone to challenge a day of fasting on them to see how it feels like.”
Besides participating in the Fast-a-thon, Bayraktar said there are other steps non-Muslim UNC members can take to support their Muslim peers during Ramadan.
“It’s always great to say to someone ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ because you acknowledge that you’re aware of their special month and their circumstances,” Bayraktar said.
The lantern lighting and the chancellor’s acknowledgement of Ramadan’s importance sought to do the same, Hatip said.
“This lantern lighting is a great way to mark UNC MSA, the Muslim Students Association’s, part on campus,” Hatip said. “We kind of want to take two steps; we kind of want to let everybody on campus know that Muslims are here too, and that Ramadan is a very important time for us, kind of raise awareness on that side.
"But also give back to the campus by sharing the celebration, sharing the festivities and the happiness that comes with the month that we really enjoy.”
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