By Lawrence Rogers
Whether you knew it or not, if you ate in McClurg on Tuesday September 12, there is a chance that you were celebrating the Muslim holiday Eid-ul-Adha. The fattoush, tabbouleh, lamb curry, basmati rice, vegetable tagine, and baklava in the dining hall were all prepared in honor of the second of the four days known as the Feast of the Sacrifice.
For those unfamiliar with the holiday, Dr. Yasmeen Mohiuddin, professor of economics and outgoing faculty advisor of the Muslim Student Association, explains, “Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Muslim year to commemorate the command given by God to Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his first son, Ishmael to Him. It follows completion of the annual pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina (Hajj) where over two million Muslims gather to perform the prescribed religious rites. Typically, Muslims all over the world offer Eid prayers on that day and sacrifice animals if they can afford to, but are required to distribute a third of the meat to the less fortunate.”
In addition to the food served in McClurg, Al Alsager (C’17), organizer of the event and president of Sewanee’s Muslim Student Association, ran a table to answer questions about the holiday and to sign students up for his club. The MSA, according to Alsager, is “not necessarily just a club for Muslim students, but also for students from the Middle East, North Africa, or Central Asia (Muslim and non-Muslim) who feel their culture is absent in their school lives.”
Although the only two items prohibited in the Muslim diet (pork and intoxicants, including alcohol) are not particularly hard to find on campus, the dining staff works hard to make sure that the sacred connection between food and faith is honored.
“I think the school does a pretty good job in offering a fairly diverse selection of meals for different dietary restrictions, and I commend Sewanee for doing a great job,” says Alsager. “Plus,” he adds, “I think Chef Rick made a powerful statement that he doesn’t condone that sign that was put up without Hagi’s authorization.”
The Eid meal and the “9/11 Never Forget” posters that Alsager references serves as a reminder that religious intolerance is not entirely a thing of the past. “A Muslim student at Sewanee goes through prejudices more often than you would think,” says Noha El-Bobou (C’19). “Even little things, such as many friends telling me that I could not meet their families or they could not mention that I am Muslim to them.” She continues, “I can honestly say… I do not feel comfortable praying or reading my Qur’an in public. Being at Sewanee for a second year has shown me how real Islamophobia is within this community of students.”
While there is certainly no shortage of work to be done in developing Sewanee students’ and their families’ understanding of Islam, Alsager and others are hopeful. In fact, one of Alsager’s major goals as president of the Muslim Student Association is to build that rapport: “There will be a lot more representation of Muslim students at the University so that everyone becomes better informed and more empathetic, so that they can have an understanding, of what goes on in the Muslim American and non-American Muslim’s life.”