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Religious Holidays Aren’t Represented Equally on Campus

Courtesy of Sajid AhmedStudents of Loyola’s Muslim Student Association celebrated Eid al-Adha, known as the Feast of Sacrifice, with a dinner on Sept. 8 in the Damen Student Center.

It’s that time of year again, and Loyola has decked out its buildings with decorations for the holiday season. But Christmas gets more attention on campus than other religious holidays.

Although Loyola fosters a space for non-Christian religions to practice their faith — such as in the Damen Student Center’s second floor of Ministry Offices for Muslim, Hindu and Jewish students — there is a lack of public festivity compared to Christmas, such as decorations and activities of other religions’ holidays the entire student body could be part of.

Roman Catholicism is the largest religious group on campus, according to Loyola’s undergraduate admissions’ latest report. The report said the 2016 first-year class identified as 60 percent Roman Catholic and 40 percent other — Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox.

Sajid Ahmed, a 19-year-old Muslim student and prayer coordinator for the Muslim Student Association (MSA), said although the atmosphere of the Christmas season brings him happiness, he wishes Muslim holidays were just as prominent.

Christmas is a Christian holiday, but is observed by many non-Christians, too. Muslims, however, celebrate two major religious holidays: Eid al-Fitr — a religious holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting) — and Eid al-Adha, known as the Feast of Sacrifice.

Eid is celebrated on different dates each year because the Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle, as opposed to the more globally used solar cycle. However, Eid al-Fitr usually occurs mid-June and Eid al-Adha occurs toward the end of August.

Like Christmas, the Eids are celebrated differently among various cultures, but they traditionally begin with morning prayers and end with family gatherings. Muslim homes in the United States also put up lights and decorations, while Muslim-based countries include those lights and decorations on their streets.

So far, in honor of the Christmas season, Loyola has put up lights and trees in various campus buildings. The university participated in its Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony Nov. 28 in the Damen Student Center, which included Santa Claus, an ice rink, hot chocolate and art decorations.

But the Eid is celebrated only among Loyola Muslim students themselves, which includes a morning prayer service and a dinner, according to Ahmed. Decorations aren’t hung on campus buildings nor activities hosted by the university.

Last year, because the Eid fell during the school year, Ahmed said he had to continue his day with classes after the prayer.

“Eid [at Loyola] is a bit dampened just because you have to go about your normal routine along with Eid,” Ahmed said. “At home it’d be a big family thing, dress up and go to the mosque. We’d spend the day together and celebrate … compared to that, college Eid has been less.”

Ahmed said the lack of celebration impacts international students and students from out of state the most.

“The atmosphere [in Muslim based countries] is a lot different than [in the United States] it’s like Christmas here,” Ahmed said.

Omer Mozaffar, Loyola’s Muslim chaplain, said he helps Muslim students request time off to celebrate with their families by asking students’ professors to accommodate for the holiday, which professors usually grant.

But because this isn’t always possible for students with a strict school schedule, Ahmed said the university could instead be more festive for Muslim students who stay on campus.

“For someone who lives far away and doesn’t have the opportunity to meet up with family, I would say making Loyola’s Eid as festive as possible would be great so that [Muslim students] can feel connected with their heritage and with their religion,” Ahmed said.

Demographics within the university might be the reason the university doesn’t celebrate religious holidays to the extent of Christmas.

With about 800 Muslim students at Loyola, including international students, according to Mozaffar, there may be a lack of exposure.

“I think if the leadership is exposed to the Muslim voice, the voice who wants to make campus more festive for other holidays, I think that’s definitely one step,” Ahmed said.

Bryan Goodwin, associate director of the student complex, said demographics don’t guide the decorations during the holiday season.

“I don’t think [demographics] ever come to our minds in terms of the decisions that we make with Christmas,” Goodwin said. “I think what guides it … doesn’t have to do with faith, it has to do with that most common sort of feeling [of the season].”

With other religions in mind, Goodwin said the university tries to be as general as possible with its decorations, including banners that say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.”

Goodwin said they’d be willing to incorporate as many religions during this holiday season and even during individual times, if those religious groups requested it.

“We feel that we do a good job at the student center of allowing other faiths to [join the holiday season],” Goodwin said. “We pride ourselves on wanting to make sure we’re aware. We always lend ourselves the conversation.”

Mozaffar also said he doesn’t think the Loyola administration would be opposed to putting up decorations for Muslim holidays, but the dates in which the Eid falls under makes it difficult to address because it happens toward the beginning of the school year. Mozaffar also said the MSA hasn’t proposed decorations either.

Ahmed said he still hopes Eid could become more festive at Loyola, though he isn’t confident.

“Will there be Eid celebrations on a scale of a Christmas tree? Demographically, I doubt it’s going to happen just because the prevalent holiday celebrated from the student body at Loyola is Christmas,” Ahmed said. “But if Eid was celebrated at the scale of Christmas, I would be so happy.”

For now, many Muslims on campus, including Mozaffar and Ahmed, enjoy the holiday season.

“It’s contagious happiness,” Ahmed said. “I don’t celebrate Christmas itself, but I respect that this is a time of happiness for people, so I enjoy it, too.”

One holiday celebrated during the season is Bodhi Day, a Buddhist celebration of enlightenment that occurs Dec. 8.

At Loyola, Bodhi Day is recognized by some members of the Hindu Students’ Organization (HSO).

Recognizing smaller holidays like Bodhi day is important to Loyola, which desires intellectual diversity, according to Shweta Singh, associate professor in the school of social work and adviser of HSO.

“People should at least know about [other holidays],” Singh said. “They’re smaller festivals, but they’re not small to the people celebrating them.”

Singh said it’s the responsibility of both student organizations representing other faiths and cultures and the university to publicly celebrate as many religious holidays on campus as possible.

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Sajedah Al-khzaleh is a transfer junior from the southside of Chicago, and one of the assistant news editors for the PHOENIX for the fall of 2017. She previously attended Harold Washington College where she was news editor. Her dream is to bring diversity in the the media. Besides reporting, she loves writing and performing slam poetry.