Students enjoy authentic Mediterranean food during first Ramadan dinner hosted on campus. (Maggie LaFleur)

By Lindsay Huffman

Most people in the United States are familiar with the traditional Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter and so on. But on Tuesday, numerous students at Eastern celebrated a different type of religious holiday-Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar set aside for fasting.The Muslim Student Association and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs co-hosted Eastern’s first Ramadan dinner at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 in Walnut Hall. The dinner, called Iftar, was significant because Iftar is the first meal after daylight when Muslims are allowed to break from fasting.

The dinner consisted of authentic Mediterranean food, which was provided by local Muslim partners, said George R. Gallien, the director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. The dinner was free and open to all students, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and Ihsan Bagby, the associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky and a board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, came to speak.

Participants also had the opportunity to donate canned foods that will be distributed to the needy at the end of Ramadan.

“This is the first annual dinner, so this will continue every year,” Gallien said. “We plan to do bigger every year.”

During the month of Ramadan, he said, Muslims eat at Iftar and two other meals in the course of nightfall before they begin fasting again at daybreak. The point of fasting is to purge oneself of all sins and grow closer to Allah.

Gallien also said some Muslims may be exempt from fasting during Ramadan in extreme circumstances, such as health issues. But for the most part, Muslims are very devoted to the practice.

“[Muslims] try and follow fasting to the letter,” he said. “They take this time very seriously.”

The idea of hosting a Ramadan dinner on campus was suggested by a member of the Richmond mosque, said Ibrahim Jitmoud, a member of the Muslim Student Association and one of the coordinators of the event.

Jitmoud, a junior broadcasting major from San Diego, Calif., said Ramadan and even the creation of the Muslim Student Association would not have happened without a dedicated group of students and the help of Gallien, whose expertise is inter-faith projects.

“He heard about us trying to start MSA. He pushed us along the way,” Jitmoud said. “For the organization, this was the best year to get started.”

Gallien said for the past nine years, he has helped to host a Ramadan dinner wherever he’s been.

“In a lot of ways, their [Muslims’] fasting is no different from Christian fasting or Jewish fasting. The only difference in their fasting is that they can’t eat during the daylight,” he said.

But the purpose of the dinner wasn’t just to celebrate the holy month, Jitmoud said, but to inform all of campus about what Ramadan really is and introduce MSA to Eastern.

“We’re MSA, and this is what we want to do,” he said.

Etenia Mullins, a freshman forensic science major from Clarksville, Tenn. and a non-Muslim, said she was invited by a friend and decided to attend to get a “new cultural experience.”

“I love the way they sing out their prayers,” she said. “It’s not just singing out-it’s a true calling out to [Allah].”

Mullins said she would like to see similar hands-on cultural activities more around campus and would probably come back to the Ramadan dinner in the future.

For more information about Ramadan or the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, contact George R. Gallien at 622-4373 or george.gallien@eku.edu.

Iftar is the first meal after daylight when Muslims are allowed to break from fasting. (Maggie LaFleur)