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Sunday, October 17, 2021

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Event aims to teach students about the spirituality of fasting

<p>Zen Meditation, run by sangha Kevin Heffernan, takes place Sundays at 7 p.m. in the Wilton Center Multifaith Room.&nbsp;</p>

Zen Meditation, run by sangha Kevin Heffernan, takes place Sundays at 7 p.m. in the Wilton Center Multifaith Room. 

The University of Richmond’s Muslim Chaplain Waleed Ilyas is welcoming members of all faiths to join a conversation about fasting at 7 p.m. on Monday. This event, the Spirituality of Fasting, will be held in-person at the Queally Admission Center’s courtyard tents. 

Lent and Passover are on set dates every year, but Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, changes based on the Lunar calendar. This year all take place in March and April. 

As multiple faiths all have holidays relating to fast and sacrifice during the spring, Ilyas thought it would be an ideal time to invite people to discuss fasting in their own traditions.

“The event on Monday came about from… [conversations] within our groups about similarities, especially with Abrahamic faiths,” Ilyas said. “There’s so much that strings from each [religion] to the others. It’s really interesting to have conversations about what we all do in our different religions and where the overlap is.”

Although restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic present challenges for organizing in-person events, Ilyas feels blessed and grateful that students can still share their insights about fasting at a safe distance, he said. 

Multi-faith events have been held in past years but this is the first specifically dedicated to the spirituality of fasting. Before COVID-19, students at religious events would sit in a circle to share their thoughts, Ilyas said. Though this is not possible under the physical distancing framework, a microphone will be made available so everyone can share their thoughts.

Dialogue that transcends boundaries of different religious disciplines is important because it allows people to better practice their faiths and how they interact community, Ilyas said.

“Our faiths are different, and sometimes we feel like we practice this way and other people practice [another] way,”  he said, “but there are a lot of things you can find that benefit you in your own routines, in your own faith traditions, that are part of another’s.” 

Religious truths are different for people even within the Jewish religion, said Josh Jeffreys, the UR Jewish Chaplain.

“Everyone given their own personal experiences is going to have their own truth,” he said. “That is part of living in this diverse society, with others; [seeing] how they see the world.”

The spirituality of fasting event allows people to interact with other faiths in a way that otherwise would not happen, UR Chaplain Craig Kocher wrote in an email to The Collegian on March 19.

“Religious faith is central to the lives of most people across the world,” he wrote. “Interfaith dialogue is a way to learn from similarities and differences across our religious traditions in order to form a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.”

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All three Chaplains had different takes on fasting, but with some overlap.

In Ramadan, Muslims fast from before sunrise to sundown for the entire month. That means no food or water, Ilyas said. 

“It’s really about mind over body,” Ilyas said. “Even if you’re not hungry, you’re tempted to eat. During this month we are making our minds strong enough to stay away from something even if it’s okay for me to do. When things come around that I’m not supposed to do, I’m strong enough to tell my body…[it] can stay away from this.”

In Judaism, people fast during several holidays. When COVID-19 spread worldwide, there was a universal fast enacted among Jews, Jeffreys said. 

“Jews use fasts as a way of … praying and concentrating on that divine grace and hoping for reprieve.” 

It’s easy when food just arrives for us. When we can just walk to the dining hall. When we can walk into THC and just swipe for food. We lose sight of all the things that go into the food that we put into our mouths, and we can take that for granted on a [daily] basis. Sometimes there is a need for a reset” he said. 

The meaning of fasting is fairly consistent among Christians, Kocher wrote.

“Fasting means abstaining from a physical pleasure, often food, in order to interpret the deeper yearnings as a yearning for God,” he wrote. “It is a form of self-denial that promotes deeper self-reflection and connection with God and to promote deeper compassion for others, especially those for whom hunger is a lived reality and not a choice.” 

All three Chaplains emphasized that anyone is welcome to attend the event.

Contact contributor Staton Whaley at staton.whaley@richmond.edu.

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