Host Marianne Vorthoren opened the programme at 7.45 pm and welcomed over forty people in the hall of the EUC on Nieuwmarkt. The three speakers of the evening are seated at a round table in front of the stage while the public fills four long tables. Jugs of water and bowls of dates are on the tables. Near the canteen is a buffet with different kinds of hummus, salad and bread. A room next to the hall has been transformed into a prayer room, where Muslims can perform their maghrib prayer after sunset.
Place to be together
“Assalamualaikum, ahlan wa sahlan,” dean Gabriele Jacobs greets the public at the beginning of her speech. She explains that this programme came about in partnership with the Islamic University of Applied Sciences Rotterdam. Last week, EUC organised a symposium on Ramadan for students and staff. The aim was to reflect on the meaning of Ramadan and link it to sustainability.
Speaking after Jacobs, emeritus professor of cultural anthropology Thijl Sunier from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam explains that an increasing number of institutions are organising an Iftar as a public programme. “And it would be great if we could use the Iftar as a place for dialogue and to be together, both for Muslims and non-Muslims.” Imam Iftekhar Chishti then spoke about Ramadan. Shaum is the Arabic word for fasting, which actually means ‘to restrain oneself’, he explains. “So, it is not just about not eating and drinking, but also about other facets, such as how you deal with lust and emotions.”
A mirror image of society
After sunset and the azan (call to prayer) those present head for the buffet. Lecturer Ward Vloerberghs is one of the initiators. He and the caterer check again that everything is in order. “We want our faculty to be a mirror of society,” he says about the reason for the programme. “Now that it is Ramadan, we want to show our Muslim students that they are part of our community.” He adds: “We want to give scope for the expression of faith in our faculty and reassure everyone that they are welcome in our community, regardless of what her or his faith is.”
That EUC, as a secular institution, organises a programme for people of faith is not something he finds strange. “My children’s school celebrates Easter while it is a public school, that is the same thing, right? I think it’s great that my children learn about Easter and my students about Ramadan,” he notes. Student Tuba finds it special too that the EUC organises this programme. She studies Islamic theology at the Islamic University of Applied Sciences and was invited to the Iftar. “As a Muslim, you are always welcome at Islamic institutions, but when a secular institution like the EUC makes the effort to show empathy, then that is really nice,” she says.
Students Felix and Wisse and lecturer Maryse Kruithof are enjoying their meals at the long table. They are not Muslims and nor do they fast, but they are thrilled to have been invited. “I knew absolutely nothing about Ramadan, so I was really curious,” says Felix, who studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics. “I learned a lot about it tonight. The explanation by the imam about Ramadan was really interesting.”
As for Wisse, it feels like a homecoming. “I grew up in the Middle East, so I do know the rituals. It’s so wonderful to feel the atmosphere of Ramadan again,” he says. It is not a first experience of Ramadan either for lecturer Maryse. She has already experienced the month of fasting in Morocco. Also, for her research, she lived for a while in Indonesia with an Islamic family. “The Muslim community at the EUC is small, so it is good that the faculty is making a gesture towards this community,” she notes.
Putting words into action
EUC student and muslim Manar helped with the preparations for the evening. “Vloerberghs asked me what I’d think if we were to organise an Iftar. I was enthusiastic, but did have some concerns: what will people think? Will they be interested? Now that I see a full hall, I’m really happy.” She goes on to say: “What’s more, the EUC is presenting itself as an inclusive institute. And I am delighted to see that they are putting their words into action tonight.”
Student Hadiel is also very pleased with the initiative. “This is the first time that the EUC has organised a programme for Muslims. As a Muslim, I feel seen and accepted.”