Students break fast at interfaith iftar

By Laura Oppenheimer

With the ring of a bell, fourth-year in the College Will Bouvel invited the hungry group gathered in front of him to enjoy the evening’s meal and each other’s company.

“We all have similarities,” Bouvel said, speaking of the different religious groups gathered. “One of which is hospitality. We all share that as a value.”

His remarks were addressed to Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students who joined together on Tuesday night to break fast on one night of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. Every day during the month, observant Muslims fast from daylight to sundown and then share a meal with family and friends.

The event, which was also organized by third-year in the College Abra Pollock and graduate students Besheer Mohamed and Laura Hollinger, was the second interfaith break fast at the University. Bouvel and Pollack organized a similar event last year.

This year’s break fast, however, was larger than last year’s, both in attendance and in the number of groups involved.

“The reason to have the iftar,” Pollock said, “is to try and reinforce the relationships between these communities and highlight the common values.”

Pollock estimated that 100 students from different faiths attended the dinner. This year the United Protestant campus ministries, Calvert House, and the Lutheran campus ministries joined Hillel, Brent House, and the Muslim Students Association in sponsoring the iftar. Attendees seemed to approve of the expanded group of participants.

“I came here last year, and this year is better—there are more of us,” said third-year in the College Nuzhath Hussain.

Last year’s event was followed by other interfaith events that continued through the year, including weekly meetings of the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group.

“Last year was the first interfaith event that I can remember, which was the beginning of opening things up,” Pollock said. The year before that, she said, “I felt like there was a lack of communication.”

The dinner was prepared during the afternoon by Jewish and Christian students. The cooking took place at Hillel so as to not only meet halal dietary standards for Muslim students, but also kosher standards for Jewish students. This level of inclusiveness struck many students.

“It’s great that the other campus groups take responsibility for preparing food for 100 people,” fourth-year in the College Dania Dia said.

With incidents of racism and anti-Semitism reported on campus in recent weeks, the interfaith iftar came at a time when some are worried about tensions between campus religious groups. However, the general consensus from students at the dinner was that, despite events both on campus and around the world, there was an overwhelming sense of respect and lack of confrontation.

“I think we have a peaceful coexistence on this campus,” Dia said. “We are a very diverse campus, but we respect diversities.”

Yousef Turshani, a second-year in the Pritzker Medical School, said that the curiosity of attending the event outweighed the tension.

With plates of pasta and salad perched on their laps, students discussed topics ranging from the basic University banter, like majors and opinions of specific professors, to comparisons of expectations from parents and relatives.

Turshani found value in the gathering, even if it only lasted for one night. “I feel like we go through class together, sitting with people of other faiths, and its great and refreshing to be interacting at events like this,” she said.