Muslim and Jewish students will put aside cultural differences Tuesday night when they share a meal and celebrate the end of the daily fasts of the Muslim holiday Ramadan together. Jewish and Muslim students participated in the meal, Iftar, five years ago but have not celebrated together since. Organizers said they hope Tuesday’s event will start an annual tradition.
To promote dialogue and understanding between the two faiths, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg proposed the dinner to Muslim and Jewish leaders in September after thinking about the religions’ “parallel holidays” of Ramadan and Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement that involves fasting.
“Our community has really been great about pulling together after 9/11 and (violence in) the Middle East,” Trachtenberg said.
The meal marks the breaking of the daily fasts during the month of Ramadan, Muslims’ holiest time of the year. Muslims traditionally fast daily from sunrise to sunset and followers engage in increased contemplation, prayer and good deeds.
The free event will take place in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom and will begin at 4:45 p.m., 12 minutes before sunset. Organizers said they ordered enough food for 500 people and they expect 200 to 300 Muslim students, as well as about 150 Jewish students and several students of other faiths.
Trachtenberg said the event is being organized by students; he only provided the original idea and University funding.
“I was just the kibitzer,” Trachtenberg joked, using the Yiddish word for someone who gives unwanted advice.
Some Muslim Student Association members criticized Trachtenberg earlier this year for signing a letter published in the New York Times Oct. 7 drafted by several university presidents, which called for “intimidation-free campuses” to stop anti-Semitism.
The students, along with several university presidents and professors around the country, said the letter neglected groups besides Jews because it specifically condemned anti-Semitism.
But MSA members said they are satisfied with the Iftar celebration because it is more inclusive and it was successful the last time Jews and Muslims celebrated together.
Junior Amna Arshad, MSA president, said that while lectures have been held on campus to promote understanding of different religions, the Iftar dinner is a more “practical” education method.
“(The history) of the remarkable harmony between the Jewish and Muslim communities is often overlooked,” she said. “(Iftar will be) a token of the past and, God willing, a hint of the future.”
Campus Muslim Chaplain Mohamed Omeish said Muslim students invited a rabbi and Jewish students to their dinner five years ago, but only about 20-25 Jewish students attended. He said there is no particular reason why a similar event has not occurred since then.
“It’s a step toward … understanding between the two communities, and we have a lot in common, but we don’t know that,” Omeish said.
Audai Shakour, a Muslim freshman who is planning to attend, said the celebration is “more of a political dinner than truly a friendship dinner from the heart.”
“If you ever want to reconcile the differences between religion and race, you would have dinner with anybody without recognizing the religion,” Shakour said. “You would have dinner with who they are, not what their beliefs are.”
Arshad noted that it is appropriate to have followers of other faiths participate in the celebration and that all are welcome.
The event will include prayers, rituals and student-led discussions about the significance of fasting for both faiths, along with a Middle Eastern meal.
Junior Jonah Zinn, Jewish Student Association president, said he supported the dinner because, “given everything that’s been going on in the world, events like this take on added meaning.”
Organizers said their main goal for the Iftar is to emphasize similarities between the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
“One way students can work against intolerance is by coming together in a brotherly way,” Trachtenberg said.