With the smell of biryani wafting out the door, members of five different faith groups gathered for a common purpose Monday, breaking a day-long fast to raise money to fight childhood hunger.
Thirty students and recent graduates participated in the fast, which ended in a potluck dinner in Ticknor Lounge featuring falafel, Indian food, tacos, salad, and cookies.
“What does unite all of us is the theme of fasting: In the Jewish religion, the Islamic religion, the Mormon faith, fasting is a part of the religion,” said Muneeb Ahmed ’14, the Harvard Islamic Society’s director of external relations, who initiated the event with the goal of encouraging interfaith dialogue.
Students from the Latter-Day Saints Student Association, Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship, Harvard College Interfaith Council, and Harvard Hillel also participated in the fast.
By the end of the night, participants had pulled chairs into impromptu discussion circles, eating platefuls of food and asking each other questions about the role of fasting in their faiths.
Brad R. Talk ’13, a former Mormon missionary to India who took part in the fast, said going without food played an important spiritual role in his religion.
“We believe that it’s a time of introspection, a time of prayer, and a time to set aside the carnal desires and to focus on our spirit and our spiritual progression,” he said. “All the meals that we missed, we take the money we would’ve spent on the meals that we missed, and we give it to a fast offering, and that offering goes to help the poor.”
Yamna Anwar ’16, a member of Islamic society, said her religion viewed fasting as a way to improve one’s character.
“It’s really a spiritual cleansing,” said, Anwar, who fasts for much of the day every Monday through Thursday.
“You make yourself a better person through fasting. You remind yourself of these principles, such as not to lie or to give to the poor.”
Organizers put a box by the door for donations to Save the Children, a nonprofit group for children in the developing world.
As he helped introduce students to one another and keep the conversation flowing during the dinner, Ahmed said he wanted to host similar interfaith events in the future.
“It’s a good way for students to come together from all across Harvard’s campus,” he said. “When they talk to one another it makes the entire environment of the campus better and it provides each of us with something to ponder.”