On Tuesday evening, Commons Dining Hall was transformed into something “between Hogwarts and Medina,” in the words of Eboo Patel, the keynote speaker at Yale’s seventh annual Ramadan Banquet.
Nearly filling the room to capacity, more than 500 Yale students, faculty and staff and New Haven residents crowded into the temporary sanctum to celebrate the holiest time of the year for Muslims during an event co-hosted by the Muslim Students Association and the Chaplain’s Office.
Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Mohammed and requires fasting during daylight hours throughout the ninth month of the Islamic calender. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said the Chaplain’s Office has long hoped to host Patel, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization that brings together young people of different religions to perform service projects together.
In his remarks, Patel discussed the traditions behind Ramadan, as well the sense of generosity it is meant to inspire. Like America, he said, Islam seeks to promote religious pluralism and acceptance.
“You can almost draw a poetic line between … what Islam attempts to be and what America attempts to be,” he told the audience.
In an interview with the News, Patel said both Islam and American national culture have strayed from their original goals of creating inclusive communities.
Yale is a vanguard for interfaith work, Patel said, referencing the strength of the Chaplain’s Office, Divinity School and Center for Faith and Culture, as well as the diversity of the student body.
“There are hundreds of universities around the country that are saying: ‘We wish we could be like Yale,’” he added. “And Yale is saying, ‘How do we get better?’”
Patel is a “significant voice” on issues ranging from cultural and political affairs to interfaith work, said Omer Bajwa, Yale’s new coordinator for Muslim life.
More than 20 attendees interviewed said they were impressed by Patel’s remarks. One of those attendees was Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who said the Ramadan Banquet promoted respect and offered individuals the opportunity to celebrate and learn about the Muslim faith.
Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry echoed Salovey’s sentiment, saying he was impressed by the attendance from all reaches of both the Yale and New Haven communities.
“This is yet another example of how [the University tries] to connect people who may be different on the outside but on the inside share commonalities,” he said.
Interviews with more than 15 students at the banquet revealed that while many were not Muslim, all shared an interest in religion, good food and sharing the experience with their friends of different faiths.
“[Patel’s] speech shows a focus on the similarities between faiths,” said Arjan Singh ’11, a Sikh student. He said he thinks such a focus reflects the Chaplain’s Office’s recent efforts to reach out to students of myriad religious backgrounds.
Last week, the Chaplain’s Office held its first-ever open house to inform students about different religious organizations active on campus.
Muslim students interviewed at the banquet said the gathering gave them a sense of home. Such comforts were a principal goal of the event, University Secretary Linda Lorimer noted in her remarks to the audience.
“The wonderful attendance at this event is a beautiful example of what is possible when we come together as a University family,” she said. “The Muslim community is a vibrant and important addition to our collective life.”
The MSA has been organizing group events all month, including daily after-sunset dinners and prayer services. Both Kugler and MSA President Usama Qadri ’10 described Patel as a “natural fit” for the event.
“One of the key goals we have in the Chaplain’s office is to offer opportunities for students to draw deliberate links between the tenets of their respective faith traditions and service to others,” Kugler wrote in an e-mail. “Eboo’s work has been about just that, encouraging community service among diverse religious and spiritual communities.”