Fort McMurray Muslims host non-Muslims at Ramadan feast promoting unity

The annual community meal was attended by more than 350 people and focused on education, community spirit and mental wellness.

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More than 350 Muslims and non-Muslims gathered at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on Friday for the annual Fast-A-Thon. The event is hosted during Ramadan to promote community spirit, and offer non-Muslims a chance to learn about Islam and meet local Muslims.

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Community leaders from various sectors including council, Wood Buffalo RCMP, non-profits, education, and businesses attended the event.

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“These types of events promoting inclusion, diversity and increasing unity are why we all put this together,” said Naseem Abdo, who MC’d the event.

The first Fast-A-Thon started in 2017 as a reaction to hate crimes in Canada and the murder of six Muslims at a Mosque in Quebec City. Inviting the community to dine with local Muslims breaking their fast was one way to show the openness of Fort McMurray’s Islamic community.

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in Islam because it is when Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed. During this period, Muslims won’t eat or drink, including water, from dawn to dusk. The fast is broken with an evening meal called an iftar. On Friday, the fast was broken at 7:34 p.m.

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Muslims are exempt from fasting if they are young children or sick, pregnant, breastfeeding or at risk of serious health problems if they fast. People who cannot fast donate money to buy a meal for every day of fasting. These donations feed millions of people enduring poverty and food insecurity.

Ramadan this year runs from March 11 to April 9. The timing shifts because Ramadan is marked by a lunar calendar. Fasting is always difficult, but is extremely challenging during summer months when the days are longer. Imam Abdurrahmann Murad says the hunger is the point.

“It instills within us that love should be kind and generous towards each other… it’s a time for self reflection and spiritual growth,” he said. “It brings to mind those who don’t have as much as we do, so that really compels us to give whatever we can.”

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ramadan
People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Community spirit, mental health popular topics of the evening

Abdulsalam Abdo, president of Markaz Ul Islam, said his hunger reminded him of civilian deaths from starvation in Gaza, and talked about the importance of community unity and mental wellness. Naseem encouraged non-Muslim employers to offer prayer spaces and accommodate religious holidays for Muslim employees.

Dr. Nasim Aruj discussed the psychological benefits of fasting. Sundas Shamshad moderated a panel on mental health with Murad, Mayor Sandy Bowman, Cathy Steeves of United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo, Freddie Russell of the Athabasca Tribal Council, and Mike Jones of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Mohamed Tarrabin, CEO of the We Care Unit, discussed the importance of charitable works in the community. A recent example was a shelter at the Islamic Centre that opened for the homeless during January’s cold snap. The local United Way called it one of the best shelters they had seen in Fort McMurray.

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Local Muslim leaders surprised Bowman with an award honouring his support for newcomers, the Muslim community and mental health initiatives.

“We have the opportunity to really bring each other up,” said Bowman. “Events like this one today really shows that and shows everyone coming together from different religions, different backgrounds, different parts of the world and really making a difference.”

Statistics Canada’s 2021 census on religion found Islam is the second largest religion in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. Murad estimates there are roughly 7,000 Muslims in Fort McMurray from about 30 different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures.

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Muslim men pray at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre before ending their Ramadan fasting for the day on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon meal to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Muslim men pray at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre before ending their Ramadan fasting for the day on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon meal to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Marwan Zetawi recites the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Marwan Zetawi recites the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Manar Shwigi recites the Qur’an at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Manar Shwigi recites the Qur’an at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Mohamed Tarrabin at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Mohamed Tarrabin at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Dr. Nasim Arruj speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Dr. Nasim Arruj speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Sundas Shamshad speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Sundas Shamshad speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Abdulsalam Abdo, president of Markaz Ul Islam, speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Abdulsalam Abdo, president of Markaz Ul Islam, speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Naseem Abdo speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Naseem Abdo speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Imam Abdurrahmann Murad speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Imam Abdurrahmann Murad speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
ramadan
Mayor Sandy Bowman speaks at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to the Mosque’s annual Fast-A-Thon, which features a meal called an iftar that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan during the day. Guests were invited to learn about Islam and discuss community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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