Muslim students at Georgetown University are too often required to sacrifice elements of their practiced faith. Georgetown must provide its Muslim community with the resources it needs to practice Islam in their day-to-day lives, particularly by providing halal food options and designating a sufficiently large prayer space for Muslim students.
The university’s commitment to creating a space conducive to practicing Islam has not yet extended to everyday life.
For example, Georgetown’s Muslim students too often must deviate from Muslim practices because of improper food preparation or a lack of properly prepared food at O’Donovan Hall and other on-campus dining locations.
As thoroughly discussed in Hiba Ahmad’s (MSB ’21) recent viewpoint in The Hoya, Hoya Hospitality, the company that manages Leo’s, has made well-intentioned efforts to provide halal-friendly options, but has thus far failed in its execution.
The few stations offering halal services — Grill at Fresh Food Company, which serves the lower level of Leo’s, LEO|MKT Olive Branch and Bulldog Tavern — rarely deliver on their promises. Georgetown should follow Ahmad’s advice in offering a single separate station that offers all-halal options for students.
Muslim students also face difficulties at Leo’s when observing Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
During Ramadan, many Muslim students fast during daylight hours, meaning the regular operating hours of dining services often may not accommodate students’ religious practice.
In 2019, Ramadan will begin on May 5, meaning many Muslim students will take their finals while fasting. Georgetown should consider the comfort of these students when planning services around exam schedules. However, Rajia Arbab (COL ’18), the vice president of the Muslim Students Association, is concerned Leo’s will not be sympathetic to these concerns.
“Next year, with Ramadan earlier in the academic year, in addition to the lack of halal options, I’m worried that the dining hall will close before fasting students are even able to eat,” Arbab wrote in an email to The Hoya.
To ensure an environment conducive to Muslims students’ success — and to signal a commitment to accommodating the religious needs of a community on campus — Georgetown and Hoya Hospitality should promise current and incoming Muslim students a halal-friendly dining option at night or at another time recommended by Georgetown’s Muslim community.
Georgetown’s insufficient resources for Muslim students are also evident in the inadequate university-designated prayer space.
Currently, the Muslim prayer space is located in the basement of Copley Hall. The most egregious flaw of the space — which does not have a kitchen to make halal food — is its size, according to Afras Sial (SFS ’19), the MSA’s director of communications. Students are able to practice daily prayer, but the space is not large enough to accommodate Friday’s weekly group prayer — a sign Georgetown’s Muslim community has outgrown its university-allotted means.
While the university has continuously failed to provide a much-needed religious space for Muslim undergraduate students, the Georgetown University Law Center established a prayer space for Muslim students this fall, according to Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh.
“Muslim Law students advocated for a designated space for Muslim prayer on campus,” Pugh noted in an email to The Hoya.
While the establishment of this space is a positive step, the university must acknowledge that Muslim undergraduates need a prayer space of their own.
Efforts to dedicate a larger space for Muslim students have been stalled for years. Sial has been waiting for university administrators to follow through on their promises for his entire Georgetown career.
“When I was a freshman, the seniors told me that they had been told since they were freshman that the new prayer space was almost complete. Since last time I asked, it should be completed next year, but this has been the official status for several years,” Sial said in an interview with The Hoya.
Stalling the progress of a much-needed religious space is inexcusable. In addition to providing culinary options suitable for a halal diet and reaffirming a commitment to the needs of Muslim students, Georgetown must accelerate the progress of this space.
Interreligious understanding is essential to Georgetown’s Jesuit identity, according to the university’s mission and ministry website.
In 1999, the pursuit of this understanding motivated Georgetown to hire the first Muslim chaplain — Imam Yahya Hendi — at a major U.S. university. Today, that same spirit must spur a redoubling of Georgetown’s commitment to the Muslim community by providing the resources students need to practice religion in their daily lives.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.