Friday marked the first day of Ramadan, and for the first time Muslim students at Yale will be able to break their day-long fast with a hot meal this year.
Working with the Muslim Students Association, Yale University Dining Services will be offering traditional dishes at the Visitor’s Center during the holy month. In past years, Muslim students had to eat vegetarian dishes, since the meat regularly used in the dining halls was not prepared according to Ramadan standards.
Director of Residential Operations Bruce Calvert said over 50 students had pre-registered for the meal plan option.
MSA member Aatif Iqbal ’05 said the new meal option will have a meaningful impact on the Yale Muslim community.
“It’s astounding how much this does for us,” Iqbal said. “I was shocked when I first got the e-mail [about the change].”
During Ramadan, Muslims can only eat meat that is Halal. For meat to be Halal, the animal’s blood must be drained when it is slaughtered, MSA Treasurer Ahmed Makani ’07 said. In addition, they must fast between sunrise and sunset for the entire month.
“Our main goal is that at Yale there should be Halal food, because otherwise the dining options are very limited,” Makani said.
Last year, Makani said all he could eat was cereal and bagels in the dining halls. MSA President Gul Raza ’06 said many members of the Muslim community faced a similar problem.
“Basically it means you have to turn vegetarian,” Raza said. “Halal food means so much to observant Muslims.”
This year, Calvert said the dining services are buying meat from the appropriate sources and are also adding traditional Muslim dishes from cookbooks as well as home favorites submitted by students.
“The dishes are typically fairly simple, it’s the spices that are different,” Calvert said. “We were able to get those types of spices, and the rest of the preparation was not difficult.”
Makani said last year the MSA asked the administration for rebates, since students had to eat out each night, but the administration wanted to keep the dining options within the Yale meal plan.
In past years, Muslim students would meet in the prayer room in the basement of Bingham Hall, MSA member Ameer Kim El-Mallawany ’05 said. Each day, some students would volunteer to bring food for the group.
“Of all the religious difficulties on campus, this is the simplest thing you could fix,” El-Mallawany said.
Makani said several other schools, including Harvard University and Dartmouth College, offer Halal foods year-round.
Raza said the meal plan for this year’s Ramadan was finalized at the end of the last academic year, with significant support from the Committee for Religious and Spiritual Life.
Once the sun sets, the students pray in the lobby of the center, Raza said. After their prayers, they break the fast with a date and then begin their meal called Iftar.
At that dinner, dining services will also hand out packaged meals for students to eat before dawn, which is around 7 a.m.
With the large majority of the Muslim students at both the graduate and undergraduate level attending the meals, Raza said she has been impressed with the attendance.
“One of the things we wanted to stress is that part of the significance of Ramadan is spending time with your peers in the Muslim community,” Raza said.
At home, Raza said most Muslim families have large meals to break the fast with everyone in the family.
With the success of the Ramadan meals so far, Raza said she hopes this will be the first step in bringing Halal dishes to students year round.
“It hasn’t been finalized, but it’s something we’re really pushing for,” Raza said. “I’m really hopeful that it will happen this year.”