More than 230 students and faculty members attended the Muslim Students Association’s annual Ramadan Banquet last Friday at the Omni New Haven Hotel ballroom.

The dinner featured keynote speaker Imam Dawood Yasin — religious leader of the New Haven mosque Masjid al-Islam — and reflections from several members of the MSA. Each spoke of the importance of the month of Ramadan and what it is like to be Muslim at Yale.

“We know each other as friends; we know each other as classmates,” Yasin said. “But now we get to know each other on a spiritual level.”

After Yasin, three students also gave speeches sharing their experience with the MSA. James Soza ’05, converted to Islam his freshman year. Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., he said his conversion reflected something he had felt years before he came to Yale.

“I feel my conversion didn’t bring about a change in my life but reflected a change that had begun within me a long time ago,” Soza said.

Inspired by Malcolm X, he said each Ramadan has been a different experience for him.

“The first was like a test,” he said. “But now I know it is a challenge, and the sweetest gift God gives is for those who come through the darkness.”

An MSA member for his entire time at Yale, Ameer El-Mallawany ’05, another of the speakers, said the MSA helped him adapt to college life.

“When I first got to Yale, the transition was so perfect, like I was moving from my family to my family,” he said. “That kind of love starts right when you get here.”

The banquet is in celebration of the approaching end of the holy month of Ramadan, which began Oct. 15, and will end Nov. 12. During the month, they fast during the day, focusing on spiritual contemplation and community.

Gul Raza, president of the MSA, said she remembers her first banquet two years ago. Only 50 people were present at the banquet in Davenport College, and they ordered food from a restaurant. Last year, the MSA’s attempted to make the banquet a large-scale event. Held at the Colony Inn, the banquet was opened to all faculty and students.

Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said she was impressed by the non-Muslim student attendance. Only 80 of the people who attended were members of the MSA.

“The speeches were marvelous, there’s such a warm loving feeling here,” Trachtenberg said. “I’m also very happy to see the non-Muslim students come here too.”

Raza said the masters of each college helped substantially to increase the turnout by subsidizing the tickets. Before subsidies, the tickets were $30, and each college contributed different amounts. No students paid more than $16, and students in Timothy Dwight College ate for free.

Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld said he enjoyed the atmosphere set by the MSA.

“They expressed the welcome students feel in the MSA, that they’re a family that is interconnected,” he said.

As each speaker reflected on their own experience with the Islam faith and the MSA, many said they appreciated the interest of people outside the Muslim community.

“Being here today is a special honor and a blessing,” Soza said. “And the greatest part of any blessing is being able to share it.”

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