UND student group builds bridges through food and fellowship during Interfaith Week
Normally taboo subjects in polite conversation, religion and politics overflowed Thursday, Feb. 28, for the second year in a row, at the "Lunch with a Muslim" event at the University of North Dakota's International Centre.
More than 80 people from varying ethnic cultural backgrounds packed the centre to enjoy each other's company as well as the delicious helpings of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine from Passage to India in Fargo.
They also came to learn about each other.
Mosab Bajaber, a UND English Ph.D. student, who is originally from Saudi Arabia, hosted the lunch with the help of the school's Muslim Student Association (MSA). He said the lunch is a chance to share what being Muslim is truly about.
"We Muslims are not monsters," he said, with a smile. "We do not eat people. We eat with people."
Those words summed up the friendly and festive nature of the event. People of differing faiths and backgrounds sat elbow to elbow around tables discussing everything from politics to food to local weather.
The event was one of many held on the UND campus the last week in February as part of Interfaith Week. Interfaith Week at UND is an annual observance that provides students with exposure to the different spiritual and cultural backgrounds that exist on campus and in the surrounding community.
The Lunch with a Muslim fare included Navrathan Korma (mixed vegetables, cooked in creamy sauce with pineapple with Kashmiri Masala), Chicken Tikka Nasala (chicken morsels cooked in creamy tomato sauce), Tandoori Chicken (chicken leg marinated in lemon juice, yogurt and select spices baked in Tandoori), Vegetable Samosa (mashed potato and green peas mildly spiced, wrapped and fried) and Naan bread.
Bajaber said Muslims at the event came from places such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia. He said the lunch helps Americans and non-Muslims learn about Islamic culture, and also acquaints Muslims with other Muslims on campus.
Bajaber estimates there are more than 200 Muslims living, working and going to school on the UND campus.
Elise Boyum, a UND nursing student from Cambridge, Minn., came to the event to converse with people from all over the world and to dine on foods she's experienced before while globe trekking. She's been to 13 countries on five continents, including two visits to Africa and a trip to Asia .
"I love it," Boyum said, about the thought of enjoying authentic Middle Eastern dishes again.
Bajaber said he was not surprised by the huge turnout of people Thursday, as the first Lunch with a Muslim event also proved popular.
This year's lunch included a raffle drawing for local retail gift cards. The only stipulation was that, if a Muslim was chosen winner, he or she would have to give it to someone of another culture.
"It's all for our guests," Bajaber stressed.
The entire event was funded by MSA members with additional financial support from faculty members.
Omar Alomar, a petroleum engineering student from Basra, Iraq, stayed busy greeting people at the door and seating them at tables. It was his first Lunch with a Muslim event.
"For me it brings happiness to see so many people here," he said. "I encourage this type of meeting as it helps break the ice for new connections and shows how Muslims are part of this community."