Fasting Friends

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, why are some non-Muslims fasting? The reasons--and people doing it--may surprise you.

A version of this article appeared in



The Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA has decided to fast, but they’re not waiting for Lent. After Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor’s statement that Islam is "evil and inhuman," the group announced that thousands of its members are fasting ... for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.


They’re not alone. For years--and especially after 9/11--non-Muslims have fasted to express political solidarity with Muslims, to increase awareness of global hunger, as a spiritual discipline or to strengthen an interfaith friendship.

More than 250 colleges are expected to participate this year in a Fast-A-Thon, a one-day event for non-Muslim and Muslim students to draw attention to world hunger and raise money for local food banks. The event began at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville immediately after 9/11 and has spread around the nation, with some schools seeing massive participation, according to co-founder Tarek El-Messidi.  For instance, more than 1,800 students participated at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond last year.

Some of the fasts have a clear political message. Members of a local anti-war group in Ann Arbor, Michigan have organized a "solidarity fast"--three-day shifts or the entire 30 days--to demonstrate opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the recent fighting in Lebanon.

But dozens of American service members in Al-Anbar province in Iraq are fasting, too, according to Sgt. Jeremy Pitcher, a spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq. He says the fast is "a gesture of good will, a gesture of respect for the nation of Iraq, for the culture of Iraq."

For the 30 days of Ramadan (now in its second week), the world's estimated 1.3 billion Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunup to sundown and embark on a spiritual journey to cleanse themselves of bad habits, come together as a community, and reconnect with God. Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five required pillars of Islam, and it is meant to help Muslims appreciate the blessings of God by going without earthly pleasures.

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