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'We're all together:' Iftars on campus create community for Muslim students

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Sarah Jimenez, Miriam Matin and Ndumbeh Boye serve a variety of food, including macaroni and cheese and braised chicken, to students during Ramadan in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday, April 3, 2023. The UNC Muslim Student Association collaborated with Chef Jimenez to provide food for those breaking their fast after dusk.

After the sun sets each school night during Ramadan, many Muslim students gather to break their fasts together with food provided by the UNC Muslim Students Association.

This year, Ramadan takes place from March 10 through April 9. Throughout the month, participants focus on their spirituality by fasting from sunrise to sunset, breaking the period with a meal known as iftar.

Simal Omer, MSA co-publicity chairperson for the 2023-24 year, said that the association partners with other campus organizations such as the UNC Pakistan Society , Carolina Union Activities Board and One Africa to host community iftars.

Many Muslim students initially feel concerned about spending Ramadan away from home, Omer said, because the holy month is a communal time of worship. MSA tries to provide a space for Muslim students to get to know each other and build community through iftars, nightly Taraweeh prayers and other events, she said.

Iqra Khan, a senior studying political science and member of MSA, said that each iftar event has a big community feel, gathering not only Muslims but also non-Muslims who are interested in learning about Ramadan as they share a meal together.

“It honestly makes it so easy — as students who are fasting — to not have to worry about the meal that you have at the end of the day,” she said. “I know that there’s a lot of kids where this meal is so important to them because it’s easily accessible and so it is really nice.”

Khan and Omer, both seniors, said there were not a lot of halal-friendly options available when they started at UNC. In 2022, MSA worked with Carolina Dining Services to offer halal protein at Chase Dining Hall at least seven times a week. However, some students have voiced concerns about ambiguous labeling, along with limited hours and offerings.  

This Ramadan, MSA worked with CDS to bring more options to Muslim students. Chase has started offering halal protein Sunday through Thursday night during dinner and late night, in addition to offering to-go options. Dates — traditionally eaten to break a fast — are also provided. 

This year, Omer said, there are more unique options for halal meat, from lamb sliders to chicken wings.

Khan said she normally cooks halal meals at home, however, during Ramadan, she gets most of her food through MSA iftars so that she does not have to worry about cooking. She said she hopes to see more options at Chase in the future, but the changes made thus far have been extremely helpful. 

“It feels like the University actually cares about you and our identity of being Muslim,” Khan said

For the community iftars, MSA often provides food from halal-friendly restaurants on Franklin Street, such as Momo’s Master and Grk Yeero, as well as other restaurants in the Triangle. 

Some MSA iftars also feature food from a specific cuisine, such as a Senegalese meal provided in collaboration with One Africa. Other meals are made up of food cooked by community members. 

For Khan, Ramadan is a time where she gravitates to the foods she’s always loved, such as Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. She also eats traditional foods specifically during Ramadan, such as dates and Rooh Afza, a rose flavored syrup that is commonly mixed with either milk or water. 

Local restaurants like Mediterranean Deli have also hosted community iftars and events during Ramadan. Med Deli is a popular option for Muslim students, as all of their proteins are certified halal and are available at the Bottom of Lenoir Hall during weekday afternoons. 

Jamil Kadoura, the owner of Med Deli, said that the restaurant held community iftars in the banquet room of their Franklin Street location prior to a fire last July. The events raised money for charities and non-profit organizations. 

“The month of Ramadan is a very beautiful month and a month of giving, so for us to participate, it was natural," he said. "We have everything halal here and we continue to do that. We do that all the time, either with students or organizations from outside.” 

Omer said all the events happening on campus and in the community help bring Muslim students together. 

“My favorite thing about Ramadan at UNC is that it’s such a community,” Omer said. “I’m not even exaggerating when I say this, but it’s truly such a home away from home type of vibe, just because we’re all together. Because Ramadan is more than just abstaining from food or drink — we’re all engaging in the same acts of worship, the same acts of charity, the same types of reflections. Having Ramadan at UNC is truly like no other experience.” 

@dthlifestylelifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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