Jewish students joined the Muslim community Tuesday to share in a ceremonial Ramadan iftar meal. This is the second year the groups broke the Muslim fast together in an effort to promote religious tolerance on campus.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during the day but break their fasts daily after sunset. Ramadan is the holiest time of the year for Muslims.
About 350 students listened to speakers and ate dinner Tuesday night in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom. Several ambassadors and other leaders from Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey and Syria, among other countries, spoke to students.
“(The event) underscores GW’s role as an international university open to people from all countries and all faiths,” said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who proposed a shared iftar last year. “It reaffirms our common brotherhood as human beings and sets an example for our government and diplomats.”
Organizers said GW was one of the first universities in the country to host an interfaith community gathering last year.
“The original idea was to come together and make it known (that) we can live together,” said Ambareen Jan, Muslim Students Association social chair. “It’s all about unity.”
There are parallels between Ramadan and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, when members of the Jewish faith fast to atone for sins, and Passover, when Jews restrict their diets commemorating their ancestors’ salvation from slavery.
“When we restrict ourselves, we are set free,” said junior Scott Kaplan, a Jewish student. “The breaking of the fast is a communal event.”
Speakers said they were impressed with the merging of the two faiths and said they are hopeful of better relations between Jews and Muslims around the world.
“This is the best example of different faiths coming together with mutual understanding and most of all respect,” said Karim Kawar, Jordanian ambassador to the U.S. “The richness of diversity brings people together.”
Trachtenberg praised the success of free Arabic classes at GW Hillel and promised to expand Arabic instruction at GW through regular classes and scholarships to study in the Middle East.
“We want to bridge the gap between the children of Hagar and the children of Sara,” he said, referring to the biblical mothers’ of Muslims and Jews respectively.
Following speeches, attendees participated in Muslim prayers and were treated to Middle Eastern cuisine including chicken, asparagus and pita bread with hummus. While signs divided diners into those who eat “kosher” and “halaal” foods, students joked and talked from both sides of the line. Kosher is the Jewish dietary requirement while halaal is the Muslim law.