September 16, 2008


Area Muslims gather for Ramadan celebration

SUNY Cortland organizes event to spread an understanding of religion


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Mirsad Sahbaz of Cortland, right, joins others in a Muslim prayer prior to a dinner Monday in Cortland for Ramadan.

Staff reporter

During September, Tanweer Haq tries not to exercise too much because he can’t drink water from dawn until sundown.
“I get hungry, but thirst is the worst,” said Haq, who works in Cortland and lives in LaFayette. “I try to pace myself during Ramadan, and instead of walking three laps of the track, like I normally would, I might only walk one or not go every day.”
Monday night, Haq and about 15 other Muslims gathered at the West Campus Apartments Recreation Center to celebrate Ramadan and answer questions about Islam from 50 SUNY Cortland students, faculty members and local residents.
Muslim observers began the celebration by breaking the fast with dried dates and standing and kneeling while reciting an Arabic prayer. Then, the crowd gathered for a variety of Indian foods like samosas, along with pizza and desserts like baklava. Books about the Koran were also available for people to read or flip through.
The event has been held for the past five years, and Momodu Sey, a junior majoring in economics and political science at SUNY Cortland, said he organized the event this year because he missed celebrating the holiday with his family in Gambia. “Ramadan is the most wonderful time of the year back home,” Sey said. “All of my family gathers to eat and to pray, and there’s lots of colorful food. It’s hard to be in a dorm room alone and trying to celebrate by yourself.”
Ramadan is a month-long Muslim holiday that celebrates when the prophet Muhammad received the Koran from God or “Allah” in Arabic.
The celebration starts during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar on the day after the sighting of the crescent moon that marks the beginning of a new lunar month. This year, Ramadan started Sept. 2 and involves fasting and praying during the day to purify the soul.
Because the nearest mosque is located in Syracuse, Sey and about 10 other Muslims gather each Friday at SUNY Cortland’s Spiritual Center to pray and study their religion. Sey said the group is comprised of international students from Turkey and Africa, which reflects how the influence of Islam spreads beyond Middle Eastern countries.
College President Bitterbaum also ate dates and a variety of Indian foods with the crowd.
“This event really reflects the diversity of our school,” he said, noting the large number of international students in attendance. The college does not ask about students’ religion, so there is no certain way to tell how many Muslims attend the school, he said.
Turkish student Irfan Uysal said he was surprised to find so many other Muslim students at SUNY Cortland.
“I expected for their not to be very many,” Uysal said, “but I didn’t expect to find so many. It is very nice to celebrate Ramadan with others.”


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