Yusuf Samara ’05, president of the Muslim Students Association, stood in front of a sea of attentive faces eager to commence with their Ramadan celebration Thursday evening.

In a packed room at Olde Blue in the Colony Inn, an almost evenly split group of 150 Muslims and non-Muslims gathered to celebrate Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. At the banquet, several students reflected on their experiences as Muslims at Yale, as well as their difficulties as students fasting during Ramadan.

“We chose this as an occasion to show the Yale community and the New Haven community what Ramadan is all about and what Islam is all about,” Samara said.

The MSA organized the event and sold tickets at $12 apiece. Some residential college masters’ offices fully or partially subsidized ticket costs so students could attend more easily.

The dinner opened with a reading of the Quran, after which the guests helped themselves to a plenitude of food, all of which was halal, or prepared in accordance with Islamic law.

MSA social chair Gul Raza ’06, the organizer of the banquet, said she was particularly proud of the event, which she described as “the biggest dinner the Muslim Student Association has put on.” She also said she was happy with the diverse turnout, since although the event catered primarily to Muslims seeking a place to celebrate Ramadan, it also provided an opportunity for non-Muslims “to learn what Islam is all about.”

“Ramadan is the easiest to grasp for the larger community,” Raza said.

MSA member James Soza ’05, one of the keynote speakers, said he used the banquet as an opportunity to recount his recent conversion to Islam. Soza, originally from Tulsa, Okla., said he went to church when he was young but never fully connected with the Christian faith.

“I don’t feel I turned away from the church, but that I never really was Christian,” Soza said.

Although largely ignorant of Islam prior to his arrival at Yale, Soza said he soon found himself in constant contact with Muslim students. Attesting to the receptivity of the MSA, he said he soon felt a pull toward Islam and converted to the religion in the middle of his sophomore year.

For many devout Muslims present, the dinner served to foster a special sense of community among Muslims at Yale, particularly when it is needed most, Raza said. During Ramadan, the MSA offers Muslim students an opportunity to gather before dawn for suchoor, their morning meal, which must last them through their daylong fast. Around 4:30 p.m., when the sun sets, they gather again for iftaar, breaking their fasts with dates, which the prophet Mohammed supposedly ate to break his own fast more than 1,000 years ago. Each day, Raza said, a different student brings a dish traditional to his or her culture in which all the participants indulge.

“The idea is just to provide a solid community for Muslim students,” said Raza.

Many Muslim students said the Yale community makes it easy to observe their religious requirements. Shobi Ahmed, MED ’06, said Yale students tend to be accommodating of the Muslim community.

“I’m always taken aback with the sincerity of their concern,” said Ahmed.

In January, the MSA plans to organize an Islamic awareness week, which will feature a set of talks about Islam and its role in the world today.

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