Students fast for Project Downtown

Grumbling stomachs and parched lips did not deter 300 students from participating in the fifth annual Fast-a-thon on Thursday.

Wajiha Akhtar, vice president of Islamic Students UM, said she was feeling very empty inside, but she put it all in perspective.

“Another reason why we do this Fast-a-thon is to give non-Muslims an understanding as to what a homeless person goes through on a daily basis,” she said. “Everyone in this room knows that come one hour they are going to be eating, but in the case of homeless people they don’t have that expectation in them.”

The Fast-a-thon rides on the coattails of Ramadan, the most important religious holiday on the Islamic calendar. It calls for practicing Muslims to refrain eating, drinking and saying or thinking negative things from sunup to sundown.

Fast-a-thon is a national event held by UM’s Muslim Students Association. They ask participants to pledge to fast for the whole day. Local businesses then donate $1 to the MSA’s charity of choice for each person who pledges to fast.

Last year’s Fast-a-thon brought in $4,000, which went to earthquake relief in South Asia.

This year MSA will be contributing the funds to a self-started initiative called Project Downtown, which benefits the homeless in Miami.

Alumnus Amir Abdel-Zaher, class of ’05, was one the original founders of Project Downtown, which kicked off in March. In the future they plan to expand the project to 10 other universities nation-wide. He is also the president of Muslim Student Association.

“What is most important is spending time and talking to the people,” he said.

Abdel-Zaher told the hungry audience that there are over 4,000 homeless people in Miami alone.

“We got this [college] education for a reason and in my estimation this reason is to help other people and serve other people,” he said. “If your education doesn’t positively impact somebody else, then what have you done?”

Since the start of Project Downtown, the group has consistently met at the same spot downtown at 5 p.m. every Friday since March, distributing more than 4,000 parcels of clothing and hygienic packets to the homeless.

Many people of different faiths and walks of life have partaken in the experience Ramadan on a first-hand basis.

“The hardest part [about fasting] was the dehydration,” alumnus Pedro Davila, class of ’06. This was Davila’s first time participating in the Fast-a-thon. “I mean, I ran and hydrated in the morning before the sun came up, but you still feel it.”

Larry Nolan may be contacted at