Fasting 5k: US Muslims host races to raise money for Syrian refugees during Ramadan

Published June 29th, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
Community races during Ramadan raise money - and awareness - for Syrian refugees. (Shutterstock)
Community races during Ramadan raise money - and awareness - for Syrian refugees. (Shutterstock)

Walking, running five kilometers in Ramadan, while fasting, sounded like a crazy idea.

It was a hot day too, at 88 F (31 C). This is exactly what a group of 45, young, enthusiastic Muslims did. Clad in pink T-shirts the group that had 8-, 11- and 13-year-olds among them, walked and ran for a non-profit organization called ‘Fasting 5k.’

Fasting 5k held the event in seven cities across the US to raise money for youth mental health issues. The proceeds will benefit an international charity called SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society) and other local charities.
 
Why hold this charitable event in Ramadan?
 
Talking to Arab News, Dr. Wahida Abaza, one of the organizers of Fasting 5k in Columbus, said that there were two reasons.
 
If you talk to non-Muslims they will tell you, fasting sounds crazy, fasting in June is crazy. We are doing this (walk) because we feel strongly about the mental health of youth.” The second reason, Abaza said, was to get people’s attention. “We are going to do this crazy thing, so donate! We have already raised over $130,000.” 
 
Thirty percent of the proceeds from across the seven cities, Abaza explained, will go to SAMS.
 
They will use it for the treatment of mental problems among the Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey. Many of the youth are suffering from PTSD and other issues resulting from displacement and war. Columbus, which is participating for the first time, collected about $10,000, part of which will go to a Muslim non-profit organization, FYI (Family Youth Institute).
 
Abaza said that they took precautions to make sure that every participant was safe. She sent out a nutritionist’s recommendation on what to eat for Iftar and Sahoor the day before so that everyone would be properly hydrated. The list included high protein, oatmeal, low carbs, no sugar and consumption of at least four bottles of water.
 
Abaza also addressed the participants and reminded them that it was not a race. They could walk even at a snail’s pace. It was not timed. They could stop the minute they felt tired or faint. There were volunteers stationed throughout the route to provide assistance if needed.
 
Arab News found the participants in high spirits. Some were slightly nervous as they hadn't walked five kilometers while fasting before. Also, no one had followed the nutritionist’s advice on eating.
 
“I ate a burger at Sahoor and read the email afterward”, said Rahat. Omar had eaten chicken and rice. “I ate cake,” someone whispered. "Shhh, don’t tell Dr. Wahida!”
 
The guys had also never worn that shade of pink before. Basil said he was fine, as he had heard, “Tough men wear pink." "We will find out at Taraweeh tonight (when other worshippers react)!"
 
The walk/run lasted over an hour. A young couple walked hand in hand, a father pushed a stroller while his baby slept. The bystanders were curious but polite. One family who was visiting from India, expressed surprise and appreciation that so many Hijabi girls were bold enough to walk and even run in such hot weather. There were volunteers with water guns throughout the route, to provide a cool mist to the walkers. Twelve-year-old Inayah had a great time squirting water on the participants as they walked. “This is so much more fun than walking!” she said with delight.
 
The walk ended an hour before Iftar. Most walkers looked flushed and sweaty.
 
One woman said, “I am feeling the lactic acid burn.” Two little girls said the walk was harder than they had imagined. The boys just shrugged it off as though it was a piece of cake. Everyone felt elated that they were able to make a contribution for a good cause.
 
As Nadeem, the CEO of FYI, had earlier reminded them, they were only walking five kilometers, the Syrians had walked for days to escape persecution.
 
Everyone was treated to delicious Arabic food for Iftar. They had all developed a new respect and love for water that evening.
 
At the end of the walk, the top ten fund-raisers were appreciated and presented with small gifts by FYI. The top three winners who collected the most money were surprisingly kids! They had beaten all the adults.
 
Eight-year-old Hamza won third prize, a bronze medal. He was also the youngest participant and very cute. He did not answer any questions posed by Arab News. He just looked at his mother and said, "I don’t want to talk." Guess he was too young to say, "No comment."
 
Eleven-year-old Rumaysa came in first place, winning the gold medal. She had collected $1,500. Her older sister, 13-year-old Nusayba, was number two. The siblings bickered a little.
 
“Aunt,” Nusayba told this reporter, "she only won because she went through my contacts and called them and got them to donate before I could get to them because I sent them an email. I have now put a password so she cannot get in." Rumaysa of course disagreed with everything her sister said. It turned out to be a good sibling rivalry!
 
By Sameen Tahir Khan

Copyright: Arab News © 2019 All rights reserved.

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