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Students Express Disappointment to Shortened Ramadan Meal Programming

Students gather for iftar at the Student Organization Center at Hilles during Ramadan in April 2023. This year, the College shortened its Ramadan meal programming to just one week.
Students gather for iftar at the Student Organization Center at Hilles during Ramadan in April 2023. This year, the College shortened its Ramadan meal programming to just one week. By Joey Huang
By Summer Z. Sun and Samantha D. Wu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s decision to shorten the College’s Ramadan meal programming from one month to one week this spring was met with disappointment by many undergraduate students.

Students voiced concerns that the change — made due to budget constraints, according to an announcement from the University’s Muslim chaplains — would decrease connection and heighten lack of access to meals and water during Ramadan.

Students who observe Ramadan fast from dawn until dusk each day for about one month in the spring. In previous years, the University provided fast-breaking community dinners — or iftar — throughout Ramadan for observant students.

This year, the holiday will be observed from March 10 to April 9, coinciding with spring break.

According to a statement from University Chaplains Khalil Abdur-Rashid and Samia Omar, “the previous model of nightly communal iftars, while of tremendous benefit to our community, was simply entirely too costly and not sustainable long-term.”

Following Eid last year, which marks the end of the month of fasting, the Office of Muslim Chaplains and the Office of the President began to discuss more cost-effective ways for students to observe the holiday.

In addition to truncating College iftar services, some Harvard graduate schools are also consolidating their Ramadan community dinner programming and hosting them in more centralized locations.

Many students were disappointed by the changes.

Though Saaim A. Khan ’25 said he did “realize that it is a significant cost for the University,” he said it was “interesting that the University just viewed this as a financial issue” rather than “realizing the value of a community when it comes to Ramadan.”

Khan said one of the greatest benefits of Harvard College providing iftar “was the fact that it brought everybody in the community together every single night.”

“The fact that there was a space for all of us to gather communally every single night was really important as we embarked on the spiritual journey for 30 days,” he said.

Labiba Uddin ’25 said the College had previously done a “wonderful job” of “providing us a place to come together and feel that spirit.”

“Providing us that space for an entire month was really, really wonderful, and I think some of us might have taken that for granted,” Uddin, a Crimson Editorial editor, said.

Muslim students traditionally break their fast before sunup and after sundown, but Uddin described the experience of eating breakfast, or suhoor, alone in her room as “isolating.”

“I feel like iftar is kind of going down that same route now,” Uddin said.

Khan also expressed concerns about limited access to food during what he said was a “spiritually and physically demanding” time.

“There have been patterns of discontent and lack of access for halal items in various different dhalls across campus,” Khan said. He suggested that Harvard University Dining Services provide dates and water for students to break their fasts, in keeping with traditional practices.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the change, referring to a statement from Abdur-Rashid.

In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Abdur-Rashid wrote that “all of this is a work in progress.”

“We will be conducting a post-Ramadan evaluation to see what worked and what changes we will need to make going forward as we strive to develop the model that works best for our campus community,” he wrote.

Despite student concerns, Uddin expressed optimism about the month of Ramadan ahead.

“I think that the community is really strong either way, and I’m sure that we’ll find a way to all come together and try to make the best of it,” Uddin said.

—Staff writer Samantha D. Wu can be reached at samantha.wu@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Summer Z. Sun can be reached at summer.sun@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @summerzsun.

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