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'Fasting 5Ks' raise awareness, donations for refugees

Fasting 5K raised $139,518 during Ramadan, a special time of giving for Muslims. 

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    Boston participants stretch before the run. This year, Fasting 5K raised $139,518.
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As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan wound to a close, hundreds of runners laced up their sneakers for one of seven Fasting 5K road races held on June 25 in the United States and Canada.

This year’s 419 runners raised a total of $139,518, “more than the three previous years combined,” Enas Alnajjar, co-founder and organizer of the Boston event, told The Christian Science Monitor in an interview Tuesday. All of the funds raised will be used to support youth mental health, the 2016 Fasting 5K theme. Previous years’ themes included education and basic needs.

Organizers in participating cities chose local charities to support and the organization chose an international charity, the Syrian American Medical Society, that will receive 30 percent of all donations to “expand psychosocial services at Zaatari camp in Jordan,” which uses “art and play therapy” to care for urban refugees, according to Fasting 5K’s website.

The charity event is a bright spark of hope against a backdrop of a terror attack that killed four security staff outside the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina, the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad.

To the vast majority of Muslims, Ramadan is a time for fasting, family, and prayer. During the most holy month, Muslims are expected to “submit to God and fast for God and pray,” Ms. Alnajjar said. Muslims who fast must be “kind, loving, and giving,” she said, adding, “even lying breaks your fast.”

Along with fasting during Ramadan (sawm), charity (zakat) is one of the five pillars of Islam, and any charitable act done during Ramadan is multiplied 70 times, said Alnajjar. "It's a good time to donate." 

Alnajjar said the event began in 2013 when she and a group of friends wanted to combine two of the five pillars into one event. They decided to take a charity model that is ubiquitous in the United States, the sponsored 5K, and combine it with their religious practices. Their friends in Washington, D.C., wanted to organize a similar run. The two cities raised a total of $15,000 that year.

“Awareness is a byproduct,” Alnajjar said, though there is tangible evidence of solidarity and unity. In Detroit, some non-Muslim coworkers joined the team in fasting, and in Boston, the event was combined with iftar in the Park, which is an open iftar, or breaking of fast at sunset. Both groups were clad in bright shirts. “People see it in public spaces and they are impressed by the event,” Alnajjar said.

Islamic Relief USA shares the purpose and meaning of Ramadan with a quote from the Prophet Muhammad, as narrated by Tabarani, an early hadith scholar:

Ramadan has come to you. [It is] a month of blessing, in which Allah [swt] covers you with blessing, for He sends down mercy, decreases sins and answers your prayers.... In it, Allah looks at your competition [in good deeds], and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves.

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