Varsha Vasudevan, Staff Writer
The VCU Muslim Student Association is conducting three initiatives for Muslim students at VCU to celebrate Ramadan including Taraweeh prayers, Maghrib prayers and Iftar meals, according to MSA leader and senior computer science major Shan Amir.
This year, MSA teamed up with the Islamic Center of Virginia to raise funds to provide food for students, according to Amir. MSA also has an agreement and partnership with VCU to work with Za’atar, a restaurant established at VCU, to arrange food for students that struggle with food insecurity.
“Students can sign up to get free meals during the weekdays, and they can just go to Za’atar and let them know that they’re with MSA and they’ll check their name in the list of students that are approved for getting their meals,” Amir said. “Their meal is covered for through the student catering fund that VCU has.”
The main purpose of MSA is to have a safe space and community for Muslim students as there isn’t a large Muslim population in the U.S. and at VCU, according to Amir.
“Especially when they’re [Muslim students] away from home and family, then it’s more difficult,” Amir said. “It helps having a second family to come to.”
MSA holds Friday prayers every week and aims to host at least two events per week, according to Amir. MSA also conducts social and educational events for sisters and brothers of the organization, fundraising and community engagement events and volunteer opportunities, Amir said.
Amir said MSA orders its own food during Ramadan using donations from community members and organizations, along with their own bank account that is not tied to VCU.
“We just ask the members what they want to eat, where they want to eat, what type of cuisine they want to get,” Amir said. “We try to vary it based off of different halal restaurants that are nearby.”
On weekends, when Za’atar is closed, meals are prepackaged to be picked up on Friday, Saturday or Sunday at the POD Market in the VCU Student Commons, according to Amir.
VCU works with Aramark to distribute food. The university resident district manager Pam Neff stated she was not aware of MSA having a previous partnership with a VCU restaurant like it does with Za’atar this year.
“The process was wonderful,” Neff stated. “Shan Amir and others from the MSA were always available to work through their needs in advance.”
Za’atar continues to be open to all VCU students and guests throughout Ramadan, according to Neff.
MSA leader Shan Amir said there are two parts of the MSA board that are involved in planning events. One oversees the entire organization and the other plans events, according to Amir.
Amir said along with socials throughout the year, MSA organizes “larger scale events” like fundraisers to donate to charity. MSA also partners with local mosques or other humanitarian organizations to serve the community, according to Amir.
“One thing we started this year was feeding the homeless throughout Richmond,” Amir said. “We’d go to a food pantry, get some food there, make some sandwiches and stuff like that and we’d go around Richmond handing them out to people.”
Amir said MSA is trying to work with VCU to make things “better” by addressing more needs for Muslim students.
“That way, it takes some of the responsibility off of MSA to do everything,” Amir said. “And it helps VCU make itself a more inclusive space for Muslim students.”
Biology freshman Shaheer Alam is a member of MSA and has attended most of those events for Ramadan. He said MSA puts on a lot of activities throughout the year including having outside speakers and playing games.
“There’s like a whole bunch of different events, either just talking about Islam, what it is, how we can grow, that kind of stuff, or you know, just trying to be community and get together,” Alam said.
Alam said he recommends anyone joining MSA because it is a “very welcoming” organization.
“You don’t even have to be Muslim to join. If you’re just interested in Islam and want to learn more, then I would 100% join,” Alam said.