Reflecting on Ramadan at New College
Signs for Ramadan inside the Hamilton "Ham" Center. Picture courtesy of Qadira Locke.

Reflecting on Ramadan at New College

Every year for one month, Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan through fasting from sunrise to sunset in order to express gratitude and share their devotion. But at New College of Florida, the road to celebration has included issues with the school’s dining hall. For instance, the dinner hours established by Metz Culinary Management at Hamilton “Ham” Center, the only dining hall on campus, end before Muslim students are able to eat. Last Ramadan, Muslim students were provided with additional meal boxes to compensate for this, but for 2023 the school has decided to only provide boxed meals for just one out of the 30 days of Ramadan.

What is Ramadan and why is it important?

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic lunar calendar. The dates of Ramadan shift slightly each year, but for 2023, Muslims all around the world fast from the evening of Mar. 22. until the evening of Apr. 20 followed immediately by Eid al-Fitr. The time a Muslim’s fast starts and ends is based on location, largely tracked by websites detailing the subtle increase of time spent fasting over the course of the 30 days—such as this website for Sarasota’s Ramadan fasting times. The meal before dawn is called suhoor and the breaking of the fast at night is iftar. It is commonplace to break one’s fast with a stone fruit, a date, before enjoying the rest of iftar

Abstaining from food and water and other haram behavior is the main component of the religious holiday, but not the only way Muslims are expected to be more appreciative of their lives and share their devotion. Some do this by increasing the number of times they pray, and others give donations towards those in the community who are less fortunate. These are known as Salat and Zakat respectfully, two of the five pillars of Islam.

Things that are haram are prohibited or unlawful, whereas halal refers to permissible things. One of the most widely known rules Muslims follow is abstaining from pork at all times. However, in order for food to be considered halal, there is a more involved process than simply avoiding pork. According to the Halal Food Standards Alliance of America (HFSAA), the three major components of ensuring meat is halal are as follows:

  1. Animals to be slaughtered must be done so with a tool that kills by the tool’s sharpness rather than its force. (Qur’an, Surah al-Ma’idah, 5.3)
  2. The name of Allāh ﷻ must be invoked before the slaughtering of animals. The meat will still be permissible if it’s left out due to forgetfulness—however, if it’s intentional, then the meat is no longer halal.
  3. The animal must be slaughtered by a follower of any of the Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism or Christianity. (See: Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni 9.312, and other works)

As Islam is one of the largest religions of the world, food conditions are not homogeneous. So while some Muslims just abstain from pork, others may choose to be entirely vegetarian or vegan due to lack of accessible food options in their circumstance.

How was Ramadan handled at New College in 2022?

At New College, Ramadan in 2022 was the first time that Muslim students were able to enjoy the school’s support in providing food. However, Ham’s dining hours are from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., coupled with the intermittent closing and re-opening throughout the day. Thus, Muslim students have had to decide between making their own food in their dorms or getting food from Ham for both iftar and suhoor. In addition, since breakfast food is only served in the mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends, that means fasting students would have to eat day-old breakfast everyday for suhoor if they wanted the food New College provided on their meal plans. 

Per the unlimited meal plan system that Metz established in the 2021-2022 academic year, fasting students were permitted to use two of their standard three-swipes-a-day with the expectation that this would allow them to save their food for later, but many Muslim students did not take advantage of this option. That year, Associate Professor of Sociology Queen Zabriskie, second-year Fatima Ismatulla and third-year Fehmi Neffati advocated for Muslim students by speaking to the New College administration about the lack of accessible food for Muslim students during Ramadan. In response, Metz started providing food for Muslim students that could be picked up in the hallway leading to the Boar’s Head after Ham’s dining hours ended. From there, food could be brought outside to be eaten in the courtyard, which did not have any outdoor lighting in 2022. 

For last year’s iftar, Metz staff provided an eight-ounce water bottle and a can of Coke per student, as well as an arrangement of salad, chicken and sometimes rice or pita. One student who celebrated Ramadan last year and whose name has been withheld for confidentiality, noted that days where the iftar meal included rice or pita would be days where other events on campus served these dishes. This left students with a severely limited selection for iftar, with the only other on-campus option for food being snacks from the Metz Boar’s Head, which also has  limited hours on Mondays through Thursdays.

How is Ramadan being handled at New College in 2023?

Like last year, Muslim students are again permitted to use two of their three-swipes-a-day during Ham’s meal hours, but with a twist that Metz has somewhat restricted the presence of pork. Out of the four food bars, including the salad and topping bar, pork and bacon was removed to avoid contamination. A new change halfway through Ramadan was the removal of the pepperoni pizza option during dinner hours. Due to some Muslim students hesitating to eat even the cheese pizza for contamination reasons, Metz agreed to temporarily stop serving pepperoni pizza in the evenings so that fasting students could have a permissible food that keeps well as a leftover.

However, despite these changes, one of the biggest hurdles the Muslim Student Association (MSA) still faces for celebrating Ramadan is time. Due to the recent ruling by the Board of Trustees (BOT) to dissolve the Office of Outreach Inclusion and Excellence (OOIE), the MSA was left with no clear source of funding for iftar meals, as they would be considered a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) event. 

Third-year student Kacie Bates introduced Ismatulla to Save New College and their gofundme intended to help students. The money allotted was $2,500 to cover the cost of ingredients to cook food for iftar. In theory, the money could be budgeted to last Muslim students through Ramadan, but in practice this leaves $83.30 per day to cover both iftar and suhoor for about 10 students. Additionally, meal preparations for this group can take up to three hours each night—meaning that the success of Ramadan at New College ultimately relies on student labor instead of the institution itself.

Most students celebrating Ramadan haven’t had the time to buy ingredients to cook themselves, and the few instances of home-cooked meals being served for iftar this year have taken considerable time, effort and money. Three dishes of homemade halal chicken, greens and basmati rice were enough to make an entire room of students excited, as it was the first meal of Ramadan personally cooked by another student. After all of the leftovers were divided amongst hungry students, happy to have fresh food for the next morning’s suhoor, the responsibility of picking up the next restaurant-prepped meal came into question.

With Ramadan taking place in 2023 while other Abrahamic religions also are celebrating, some also by fasting, students hope that New College will move forward in its support of all of the religious sects on campus. However, the responsibility of providing the basic necessities during these times of religious importance have been placed on busy students’ and faculties plates in times of uncertainty.

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