Sodexo offers Ramadan meals to foster inclusion

To better support students celebrating Ramadan, Augustana Dining Services is now providing more halal meals to students who are religiously fasting.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which able-bodied Muslims participate in daily fasting. 

“Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sunset,” Sara Alhasnawi, a fasting Muslim said. “It celebrates the time that the Qur’an came down, and it’s a month of holiness, of prayer, of charity, of giving, and it’s sort of this month where we are mindful of our privilege and our capability to help others.”

Ashley Bohlen, the Sodexo general manager, said that providing appropriate meals for Muslim students is part of Sodexo’s responsibility in serving the campus community. 

“We enjoy being able to partner with different groups and people to meet these needs,” Bohlen said. 

The available foods this year include vegetarian soups, halal chicken, spinach and artichoke dips, naan bread and dates. A selection of breakfast items are also being introduced this year.

Sophomore Azam Shaik, a Muslim student celebrating Ramadan, said that these meal options have positively impacted his religious community on campus. 

“It can be difficult for some of us to locate adequate dining options on campus at this time,” Shaik said. “By providing meals for their students, Augustana is showing a sense of support and inclusion while also fostering diversity and inclusivity on campus.” 

Bohlen said that Sodexo sat down with Heather Edmunds Reed from the International Programs Office, religion professor Julie Swanstrom, ASA President Alhasnawi and ASA Vice President Tsegab Arega to plan meal options for fasting students.

“We have the campus cupboard stocked with a lot of halal options for students to just come in and take if they want to,” Alhasnawi said.

Alhasnawi also said that students can  order ahead to plan meals even when the dining hall is closed.

Reed said that the Ramadan meals first started a few years ago after students voiced that regular iftar meals were not available to fasting students on campus. 

“All students need to be supported in the faith that they practice,” Reed said. “Augustana is a community that welcomes all faiths and non-faiths, and by providing food that allows students to observe their traditions, we show this support through our actions.”

Reed said it has been a blessing that Sodexo has been an ally in providing this support to students. 

“Through education, we can create understanding and inclusion,” Reed said. 

Shaik said that Augustana’s status as a Christian university shouldn’t prevent it from supporting other faiths. 

“Instead, it can be an opportunity for interfaith discussion and understanding,” Shaik said.

According to Reed, Umaima Koch, the IPO operations coordinator, made infographics to help educate students who might have questions about Ramadan. 

Alhasnawi and Shaik both said they would like to see Augustana continue to provide appropriate meals for Muslim students even once Ramadan is over. Alhasnawi stressed the importance of providing culturally sensitive meal options for all student groups. 

Shaik also noted how providing diverse meals benefits all students. 

“Giving students an array of meal options gives all of the students the chance to experience various cultures and cuisines,” Shaik said.

Reed said food is an important part of tradition for other religions.

“It doesn’t always occur to the dominant religious group to realize that other faiths have different holidays, holy periods of time and different traditions,” Reed said. “Food matters when it comes to faith and tradition.”

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