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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-ed: Students shouldn’t have to carry burden of Ramadan accommodations alone

Noor Jehan Ansari is a junior majoring in American studies and a former president of the GW Muslim Students’ Association.

In the weeks leading up to Ramadan both this year and last year, the executives of the Muslim Students’ Association organized Ramadan programming for GW’s hundreds of Muslim students — all without the help of the University.

While religious life offices at universities across the country guide their respective schools on how to best accommodate their Muslim students during Ramadan, the MSA is the only liaison between the University and its Muslim students. We communicate what our needs are during Ramadan to GW every year, organize all of our religious observances and must explain to officials who do not know about Islam and Ramadan what our religious practices are and why we need accommodations for them. No student should have to carry those burdens alone.

Students who observe Ramadan, which lasted from March 22 to April 20 this year, do not eat food or drink water during daylight hours. We get up before sunrise to eat our suhoor — the meal before sunrise — and pray our morning fajr prayer. After the sun sets, we break our fast and share iftar — food for the breaking of the fast — after observing the evening maghrib prayer. Muslims around the world also spend much of the night at the mosque praying nightly tarawih prayers together.

A week before Ramadan began this year, the two current co-presidents of the MSA and I met with GW Dining officials over Zoom. We wanted officials to create a system for Muslim students to get iftar and suhoor in GW’s dining halls.

We ran into several problems. Officials we expected to lead the meeting were not there, while those who attended needed us to explain what our traditions were. When the three of us suggested having suhoor to-go boxes, dining officials instead kept replying with the term “breakfast boxes” — language was getting lost in translation. We left the meeting totally unsure of what GW Dining’s plan to provide meals for fasting students was and with the understanding that we would be responsible for what’s essentially a full-time job.

We received messages from Muslim students during Ramadan this year asking us about GW’s Ramadan accommodations, but we couldn’t answer because we were just as confused as they were. Students told us there weren’t any suhoor boxes left for them on some nights — officials did not anticipate the number of people that would need them.

The MSA provides twice-a-week iftar meals for students who are fasting during Ramadan. We organize tarawih prayers, book rooms and find imams to lead the service. And we put on Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of the month. We also ask academic departments to allow extensions and accommodations for students who have exams scheduled during Ramadan and Eid.

We expect more than 100 students to attend these events, which take about 25 hours a week to plan, let alone the time to facilitate and clean up after each event. On top of school work and other responsibilities, that means leaders of the MSA can’t always observe the very spiritual practices we help plan.

This lack of support is not just an issue during Ramadan. The MSA has also struggled to put on our weekly jummah, or congregational prayers, on Fridays. There is no space available for one hour on Friday afternoons that can fit the 100 members that usually attend — a number that only increases during Ramadan. Various University departments have met our attempts to find space with roadblocks over capacity constraints, conflicting reservations, radio silence or blatant refusals to help.

The Multicultural Student Services Center does not have its own staff position dedicated to religious life, which is why GW lags behind many other universities when it comes to accommodations for students during Ramadan. The University of Southern California, the University of Maryland, Emerson College, and Northeastern and Loyola universities offered to-go boxes for fasting students in 2022, the first year that the entire month of Ramadan fell during the academic year.

All of these universities have an office of religious life — full-time or part-time staff members dedicated to creating spiritual programming and being a services hub for religious students and the university. Omer Mozaffar, Loyola University’s Muslim chaplain, consulted on dining accommodations for Ramadan and received dates from university officials to gift to fasting students last year. At USC, a dietitian told NPR they knew they had to do something to help Muslim students who were fasting during Ramadan in 2022 — they took the initiative rather than acting like these accommodations were an inconvenience.

Without one of these offices at GW, it is up to student organizations to acquire funding to pay a salary for their own chaplains to teach the University about their religious traditions and needs. Unlike GW Hillel and the GW Newman Center, the MSA cannot draw on support from external organizations and does not have enough funds to pay for a spiritual leader of its own.

The University’s lack of awareness about its own student population and their religious practices shows how few Muslims are involved in the planning process of its dining program and other services, and the lack of a spiritual life office is hindering GW’s ability to accurately attend to its students’ needs. But, we’ve heard in other meetings the MSSC is taking steps to hire a director of religious life.

We need someone who can sit in on meetings with GW Dining, ensure students receive exam extensions and other classroom accommodations, help organize congregational prayers and most of all is knowledgeable about Islam and religious student life. If GW’s religious life director can’t meet those needs if or when the position is created, then they must help student organizations like the MSA acquire funding for their own chaplains to carry out those responsibilities.

GW shouldn’t expect undergraduates to be consultants for the University on religious accommodations — we should be able to focus on our own spiritual fulfillment during our most cherished time of the year.

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