Muslim students struggle to find Halal dining options
Elevation Burger is the only restaurant to offer halal meat at the University
When Fatima Munshi first arrived at AU, she asked other Muslim students what halal food options were available for her. She was told there were only two, and their label wasn’t even confirmed. Elevation Burger’s meat was debatable and MegaBytes chicken was rumored to be halal.
It wasn’t until Munshi’s sophomore year when she felt comfortable eating at Elevation Burger after she saw one in Pennsylvania that advertised having halal meat.
“That gave me the confidence because I only eat meat if there is a certification that it is halal,” Munshi, who is co-president of the Muslim Student Association, said. “I need that to be certain.”
Now, MSA is advocating to bring more halal options to campus. Islam is the sixth most popular religion for the class of 2021, The Eagle previously reported.
Yet, Elevation Burger is the only restaurant to offer halal food on campus, Director of OneCard and Dining Services Ann Marie Powell said during an MSA meeting on Nov. 15. The chicken and burgers are halal, Powell later told The Eagle in an email.
Halal is an Islamic term indicating that meat is prepared according to Muslim law. Muslims can only eat meat that is considered Zabiha.
Zabiha is the method by which Muslims slaughter animals -- with a swift and deep cut to the jugular vein -- ensuring that the animal is killed in a way that causes minimal suffering. The name of Allah is also recited during the slaughtering, designating the meat permissible -- or halal -- to eat.
Other Muslim students have a similar experience to Munshi when it comes to a lack of options.
“Since the options are limited, I have to resort to vegetable options to make up for the missing protein in my diet,” said freshman Alaa Hammoudeh.
Additionally, freshman Samia Warsame said the process of finding halal food can be draining, both physically and financially, as she has to take time out of her day to find options off campus that can be costly.
“I believe that the lack of halal food on campus is detrimental to student life because it really limits what we can eat, and we instead have to find halal spots off campus which takes up a lot of time, energy and money,” Warsame said.
Powell said that beyond Elevation Burger, students can find halal options in frozen meals from Saffron Road, a halal food brand, offered at the East Campus POD.
Muslim students can also eat from the kosher section in the Terrace Dining Room, Powell said.
But for students like MSA co-president and junior Ammarah Rehman, these options are not enough.
“Although kosher and halal have a lot of similarities in terms of meat preparation, having halal meat on campus allows an overall inclusive dining experience for Muslims who will not eat kosher meat,” Rehman said.
Hammoudeh agrees, and believes that Muslim students should not have to venture off campus to find halal meat options.
“I know there is kosher meat, which means that the University has started to accommodate other preferences,” Hammoudeh said. “It’s just unrealistic to assume those that want halal food will leave campus every time to get it.”
Another issue that Muslim students often encounter is that the food at TDR isn’t always labeled properly, and food that is labeled as chicken ends up having pork products in them.
“There are often times when a food item looks like it’s chicken, but it turns out to be pork,” freshman Zarah Akrami said.
Akrami said the labeling errors can lead to confusion among students who do not eat certain foods.
“As someone who does not eat pork, it can very confusing when items are not labeled correctly,” Akrami said.
In order to bring more halal options for Muslim students, Rehman recently started an online petition to show support for the initiative. The petition quickly gained traction on social media.
As of Nov. 16, their petition has 567 signatures and has gained recognition from MSA International and Zabihah, the world’s largest guide to halal restaurants and markets.
During a meeting between Powell and MSA on Nov. 15, Powell said that MSA has “the ball in their court,” meaning it is up to them to work with administrators on what halal options can be brought to campus.
When a student attending the meeting asked about bringing more halal options to campus by next semester, Powell was unsure if the students’ requests could be met in that period of time.
“That can’t happen overnight,” Powell said. “I can’t tell you you’ll come back spring semester and that [halal food] will be there.”
Senator-at-large Yasaman Hakami went to the Nov. 15 meeting to show support from Student Government. She’s writing a bill to advocate for more halal options at AU and show support for Muslim students, Hakami said.
“We are your representatives,” Hakami said. “You’ve elected us into office and this is what our job is supposed to be.”
Hakami said it is student government’s responsibility to support students when they are asking for action from administration.
“We’re supposed to show up and show support when [the administration] is not necessarily the most productive listeners when it comes down to students’ rights and student advocacy,” Hakami said.
For Rehman, bringing halal meat options to AU is more than just expanding the dining options for Muslim students. It also means educating other students about Muslim students’ needs.
“Overall, having halal meat creates presence and acknowledgement of other religious accommodations on campus,” Rehman said.
Munshi said she will keep fighting for more halal options on campus as she believes Muslim students deserve more.
“We don’t live in a perfect world and this is an opportunity for the Muslim community on campus to organize and advocate for the things that we believe our community deserves,” Munshi said.
Munshi is inspired by the advocacy work being done by Muslim leaders on AU's campus.
“You look at the world around you right now, Islamophobia is at an all-time high and at the same time, we have so many great leaders in our community and so much good work being done to combat Islamophobia," she said.
Munshi said her advocacy efforts have grown significantly since her freshman year.
“I didn’t realize that AU is supposed to be like a home to me [when I was a freshman] and I wasn’t really sure how to make demands either and I wasn’t sure who was going to listen,” Munshi said. “So being new, I just didn’t know how to do that.”
Advocating for halal food has been a learning experience, Munshi said.
“Your community deserves it and you’re part of this community and you should feel like that,” Munshi said. "So, ultimately I kind of feel like this is the first year that I really feel part of AU and I feel like through this advocacy I’m more involved.”
This article was originally published in the December 2017 print edition of The Eagle. Cordilia James contributed reporting.