The smell of chickpeas, vegetables and spices wafted across the dainty red and white table sets that filled the Straight Sunday night. Undergraduate and graduate students, professors and local Ithacans dined together at the fifth annual Eid Banquet, hosted by the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, in honor of the end of Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr, also known as the holiday of Fast-Breaking, celebrates the end of the Muslims’ month-long observance of the holiday remembering the revealing of the first lines of the Qur’an to Muhammad.
Sunday’s celebration included guests from all types of Muslim backgrounds, which Rong Ma ’10, president of MECA, noted in his address before dinner.
“The diversity of Muslims represented here, shows the strength that Ramadan has in bringing people together,” Ma said.
Two guests in attendance, Fariha Ahsan ’13 and Hanah Qudsi ’13, exemplified the communal power of Ramadan. As hallmates in Balch Hall, Ahsan and Qudsi befriended each other after noticing they were the only ones eating at dawn everyday.
“We realized we were both practicing Ramadan, and began eating cereal every morning together,” Ahsan said. The group that started at two grew to include other practicing Muslims living in Balch. Although coming from different cultures — Ahsan from Saudi Arabia and Qudsi from Pakistan — the girls found solace in the practice of Ramadan and the hunt for viable food options at such unusual hours.
Generous alumni and community members aided their search for food, sponsoring a daily Suhoor — the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting — to take place on campus. The donations allowed for catered food to be provided for students in the early morning at Baker House and in the evenings at Anabel Taylor Hall.
Community support was a big factor for the Eid celebration as well according to Ma, who said things would have not gone as smoothly if it weren’t for the $15,000 budget he had for the night, most of which was contributed by alumni and members of the Ithaca community. He said for the past four years there have always been generous donations because, “people know this a special event for the Muslim community.”
Ian Hosein grad believes the Eid celebration is just as important to non-Muslims as it is to Muslims. “This event gives us an opportunity to sit down with non-Muslims and teach them what Ramadan is really about and the significance behind it,” Hosein said.
Brian Lee ’13 and Alex Senko ’13 were two non-Muslims attending Sunday’s gathering. The two came after one of their hall mates invited them. Although Lee and Senko were skeptical at first, they found the night to be enjoyable.
“The food was awesome,” Lee said, commenting on his dish of potatoes, chickpeas and vegetables known as Aloo Chana. “I’m so glad I came ... it’s cool to be exposed to something like this with no prior knowledge.”
Senko had certain expectations going into the night and was surprised to find he had been misled.
“I learned that what I initially thought about Muslim culture and even food, wasn’t exactly correct.” Senko said he was surprised by the unity among Muslims of different cultural backgrounds, which he never realized existed.
The Eid banquet serves primarily as a celebration of the end of Ramadan each year, but on Cornell’s campus, it also provides the Muslim community a chance to inform others.
Prof. Shawkat Toorawa, near eastern studies, emphasized that this role is one of utmost importance.
“People have a monolithic view of what Muslim people are, and all people need to do is sit down to realize that they are as diverse as any other culture,” Toorawa said. “That is what people have the opportunity to do here, and I can only hope that is what they come away with.”