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Campus Helps Students Organize After-Fast Meals During Ramadan

ramadan students

SUNY Plattsburgh students who observe Ramadan have been gathering in community each evening the month of April to enjoy iftar, the meal eaten together after fasting, thanks in part to the help received by a host of campus personnel.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. But living on a college campus can make it difficult to observe. Jackie Vogl, associate vice president and director of global education, wanted to make this easier for those who observe.

She had the question of how to make this happen on her radar more than a year ago when Jim Sherman, interim director of housing and community living, reached out. This year, Vogl got the ball rolling, touching base with a number of campus offices that could help give Muslim students an easier way to observe.

Food and Global Diversity on Campus

“Over winter break, I began interacting with Chris Mihayli at Chartwells about developing food options that reflected the global diversity on our campus, including both domestic and international students,” Vogl said. “In early February, I emailed all international students asking whether they observe Ramadan or any other religious tradition that requires alternative eating patterns.

“I also asked them to respond if they were interested in participating in discussions about such observances,” she said. The majority of respondents indicated they are Muslim and observe Ramadan, Vogl said.

She then reached out to these students for a Zoom meeting with Mihayli, Catherine Keleher, interim director at College Auxiliary Services, and Dr. Richard Miller, interim vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, to determine how to best support these students.

Sherman made it possible for students to use kitchen space in Kent Hall for iftar, the meal eaten together after fasting since before sunrise each day. Vogl drove three students to an international grocery store in Winooski, Vt., for halal meats and other items that aren’t available in Plattsburgh.

Collected Funds

“They had had collected funds from many students to cover the cost of the groceries, and we came home with a trunk load of items,” Vogl said.

Students appreciated the efforts.

“We want to thank Jackie for believing in us and helping us drive across Vermont to get halal groceries for the preparation of the month,” said Ebtisam Mohammed, a senior computer science and business administration major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “We had to spread the word for all Muslims on and off campus to join and also made sure to make it open for everyone who is interested in joining as well.”

Mohammed said since Ramadan is “about giving and sharing, for the first few days, we had all the members donate what they can since.”

Sohayla Erroui, a psychology major from Morocco, worked with Mohammed to help make this happen.

'Better Than I Expected'

“I love cooking Moroccan dishes, and I am a family person, so the iftar story had to happen,” Erroui said. “ I couldn't imagine spending Ramadan away from my family, but there's always a first time.” She said she knew it was “going better than I expected.”

“Ebtissam and I talked about this a month before Ramadan,” she said. “Jackie was so responsive and helpful, we had to invite her on the first week, and we enjoyed her company and her husband, Steve, as well. Michelle (St. Onge) from GEO was there too with her boyfriend, Steve,” Erroui said. “Those couples are like our parents; there's a something magical and charming about their presence. They radiate unconditional love and support.

“I should mention that our Pakistani, Ethiopian, Egyptian and Bangladeshi friends cooked some very delicious international dishes,” she said. “I am learning with them and enjoying different flavors.”

Chartwells Helps Out

Aside from the Vermont trip, Mohammed said getting regular groceries to use throughout the month during iftar was a challenge. Mihayli was able to work out a plan to have students exchange meal swipes for ingredients they were able to use.

“And I can’t forget to mention housing and their help providing us with a wide, safe and clean kitchen for cooking,” Mohammed said. “Jim Sherman personally gave me a tour and made sure to provide us table and chairs.”

Mohammed said that each day has seen a minimum of 15 people coming to their meals; some days have seen more than 25. Students and invited guests will celebrate the end of Ramadan — Eid al-Fitr —  May 2, an evening that will include “an informative session, good food and fun activities,” Mohammed said.

“The holy month of Ramadan is a gift from God to help us purify ourselves and show us our real enemy, which is ourselves,” he said. “It is a month of giving and kindness; it is the month of the Holy Quran, which was sent to us this month. And it is a month where family and friends come together to celebrate their faith in God.”

For more information on the Ramadan observation at SUNY Plattsburgh, contact Mohammed at [email protected] or Erroui at [email protected].

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