After Muslim students led an extended fight for more halal dining options on campus last year, AU has created a new section in the Terrace Dining Room dedicated to halal food.
The move by the University is the latest in a series of actions to address AU’s lack of halal food options. Last fall, Elevation Burger was the only restaurant to offer halal food on campus, The Eagle previously reported. Halal chicken was made available in TDR upon request in spring 2018 and, in August, AU debuted a permanent section for halal food in the dining hall.
“I was totally surprised when that happened, I didn’t think it would be possible,” said Ammarah Rehman, the president of AU’s Muslim Student Association. “And, to be honest, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I think it’s perfect.”
Halal is an Islamic term indicating that meat is prepared according to Muslim law. Muslims can only eat meat that is considered Zabiha, 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.
Previous groups of Muslim students had tried unsuccessfully to convince administrators to change the school’s dining options. The lack of places to eat took its toll on Muslim students, and several told The Eagle in November 2017 that they were frustrated by AU’s inaction on the issue. Ann Marie Powell, the director of OneCard and Dining Services who worked on this issue with students, did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
“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,” then-freshman Samia Warsame told The Eagle.
An online petition created by Rehman and the MSA reflected that frustration, earning over 600 signatures and gaining the attention of administrators. Rehman, a senior who has been the president of MSA for almost a year, said the work that the association has done with the administration is necessary and important in order to make Muslims on campus feel like a more integrated part of the AU community.
“By having halal food on campus, it’s allowing inclusivity on a greater level,” Rehman said. “It’s more than AU talking about being inclusive, but it's actually taking a stand so that students are represented and able to eat.”
The accomplishment is not the end of the road for Rehman and the association’s members. This year, the MSA is striving to be more accessible and approachable to students. Rehman said the work of the MSA is bigger than a food issue—it's an opportunity to educate students on Islam, she said.
“It goes beyond just being able to provide food for Muslim students on campus,” Rehman said. “It’s really normalizing Islam in everyone’s eyes.”
Now that the group has achieved its dining option goals, the MSA is looking forward to working further with AU administrators toward making a more inclusive and unified community, not just within the Muslim student population, but within the wider student body.
“I think one of the main reasons why people either have internalized or externalized Islamophobia is because they’re not used to seeing people in hijabs,” Rehman said. “Now when you see Arabic words in TDR, that’s not threatening at all, and then you can go and educate yourself.”