By Laraib Asim
As the days get longer, so does the fast for Muslim students and faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh. The fast, which starts at about 4 a.m. every morning and ends at sunset around 8 p.m., lasts almost 16 hours every day.
“Despite the physical challenges, we [Muslims] fast with enthusiasm.” Iman Ahmad, a Muslim student, said. “We are learning important skills such as patience and empathy.”
Over the course of the past few days professors from different faculties have been invited to come have iftar (evening meal that breaks fast) with students. On April 15, Professor Wanda Haby from the School of Business and Economics (SBE) was invited for iftar at Kent Hall — where the first floor’s teaching kitchen is being used for arranging iftar. As someone who is familiar with Islamic culture, she was ecstatic to experience it here on campus and see how the students have bought it together.
“I think the insight into the student experience here at SUNY Plattsburgh [was intriguing],” Haby said. “I was surprised by all the different countries the students represented and all of the different mother tongues, the different languages the students spoke but [despite that] you all were one family and you all communicated in English even though you celebrate [the faith] differently.”
On April 21, Professor Haby was invited again, this time with Professor Mohamad Gaber from the SBE joined students at iftar. Whilst Haby was unable to attend due to time constraints, she showed her love and support for the students by dropping by Kent Hall a few hours early to drop by food items that she had bought specifically for the students from the Arab market from Albany.
Mohamed Gaber, professor and chair of accounting, also attended the event.
“I joined more than 20 on-campus students and shared food and thoughts in a collegiate and peaceful environment. What was also amazing to me is to see so many students from different countries with different cultures, and all share the joy and festivity with Breaking our fast after day-long fasting.” he said. “I had the pleasure of seeing some students for the first time, and all in all we did represent more than 10 different countries on that day. Students worked so hard all day long to cook several types of food and sweets. Everything they have done was beyond amazing.”
Professor Curt Gervich, his wife Professor Amy Gervich and their two young children Eloise and Jacques Gervich came to experience the diverse iftar one Sunday evening. Afterward, everyone played Morrocan games and talked about various cultural differences. The evening was buzzing with happiness and was a relaxing way to end the night.
Members of the GEO office and Ebtisam Mohamad, Muslim student in her senior year have been persistently trying to reach out to a local Imam (the person who leads prayers in mosques) to come lead the students in prayer. Throughout Ramadan, Muslim students Sabit Muderis and Shahidul Islam led students in prayer during the last two prayers of the day whenever possible.
On April 22 when two Imams were able to drive from a nearby prison to visit the students and break their fast together, it created a lot of excitement from the students. After iftar, approximately 20 students gathered around to pray in congregation with the Imam’s who, aside from the last two prayers of the day, also led Taraweeh Prayer (a specific prayer prayed during Ramadan).
From the first Zoom meeting hosted by Jacqueline Vogl, Chartwells along with College Auxiliary Services (CAS) has been actively supporting Muslim students gain momentum in their plan to celebrate Ramadan during iftar. CAS through Campus Housing & Community Living had arranged for Kent Hall’s teaching kitchen located on the first floor. It was decorated with lights and Ramadan-themed banners and became the hub for a community of students and faculty to come and celebrate the Holy month.
Christopher Mihalyi, the representative of Chartwells was in direct communication with Ebtisam (Sam) Mohammad, a double majoring in Computer Science and International Business. He realized that Chartwells could “supply them [Muslim students] with an entire experience to have an observation of Ramadan become more successful” rather than just keep Clinton Dining Hall open for a few more hours.
Through the pre-existing meal sign away program, students could provide a list of ingredients they require every week which would in turn be traded for meal swipes. A roster of approximately 15 to 20 students was provided to Chartwells to allow them to make an accurate decision regarding the quantity of ingredients provided. The meal swipes of the students on the list who were on the Anytime Dining Plan was to be used. Concern arose among the students who were on any one of the three flex meal plans when their meal swipes were deducted daily as this was not a part of the agreement.
When Sam communicated the problem with Chartwells and alerted them that some students were worried about their depleting balance not being enough to last the semester, they were quick to respond to the situation and within 24 hours resolved the issue with CAS to ensure food security. The students were not compensated for the meal swipes they had lost (approximately 14 swipes), but after April 18 only students enrolled in the Anytime Dining Plan were a part of the meal sign away program.
“Sam had communicated with those students and the balance they had left — we checked with CAS — was more than enough to carry them through the semester. So, there was no reimbursement but there was an acknowledgement [to ensure] that their need for the rest of the semester [was met].” Mihalyi said.
Catherine Keleher who represents CAS said, “Our staff member who was looking into it, Evelyn, offered to Sam to meet with any of the students who had questions or concerns about their meal plan.”
When talking about the success of this event that was planned weeks before Ramadan began, Mihalyi said: “Chartwells and CAS wants to do nothing more than to give the students the experience that they are looking for, to better contribute to the college experience. But it is a two way street [in terms of communication] and I think Sam really owned it. Her ability to come in and chat with me, chat with Evelyn and CAS and Executive Chef Laura to make the event successful was why it was a quick turnaround.”
He is hopeful that events like this will continue in the future.
“The layout is very straightforward,” he said. “Where it can get refined in the future is probably expanding on what we can procure and what we can get to make the events more inclusive in terms of the food aspect.”
He hopes that students can reach out to Chartwells and CAS and communicate their ideas as they are open to constructive feedback and willing to work together to help arrange events like Ramadan at Kent Hall.