Hagar Kenawy ’17 sat comfortably at a large round table smack dab in the middle of Marquis after a long, chilly day. Around her, friends sat contentedly, making jokes about the day’s affairs, laughing boisterously and digging in to a heaping plate of grilled halal chicken.
Some Muslim students like Kenawy, the president of the Muslim Student Association, waited four years for this. Lafayette Dining Services now permanently offers chicken that is halal, or allowed within Islamic law, in Upper and Marquis.
Two years ago, Lafayette reached out to students through the Interfaith Council to get feedback on dining preferences, according to Chaplain Alex Hendrickson. Halal meat was suggested, and Bon Appétit, Lafayette’s meal provider, responded by ordering and storing small amounts of halal meat, which it kept stored and frozen until a student requested it in Upper.
“The issue with that is halal meat is not part of a meal, and students have to wait to have it prepared for them,” Hendrickson said.
Taha Rohan ’19 said he had to change his eating habits because there were so few options for him to eat meat.
“Many of my upperclassmen friends chose to just eat [regular] chicken just because they had no other option, some went vegetarian, and very few of them actually waited 15 to 20 minutes get halal chicken in Upper,” Rohan said.
Rohan himself didn’t know what to expect when he arrived to Lafayette from Pakistan, a country that hosts roughly 11 percent of the world’s Muslim population, and where halal meat sells on every corner. He said that when he came to the U.S., he accepted the fact that things would be different and tried to adapt.
“This happens,” Rohan said. “I just had to get used to it.”
Initially, Rohan chose to wait for proper halal chicken. However, his schedule soon filled up, and he no longer had time to wait. He unwillingly decided to go vegetarian.
“At that point, I forgot that there was any hope that we could have halal chicken,” he said.
Rohan found that many other Muslim students had also begun to ask for halal meat as a permanent meal option. Hendrickson and Dean of Students Paul McLoughlin II responded to student needs by cooperating with Bon Appetit to make all chicken served at Lafayette halal.
Many New Yorkers associate halal with food carts crowding the streets of Manhattan and selling countless gyro sandwiches every day. The Quran defines halal as anything that is religiously permissible. This extends to every facet of a Muslim’s life, including the meat he or she consumes.
Halal meat needs to come from animals that have been slaughtered by a process called Al Zabiha, as is said in Arabic. It is done by blessing the animal in the name of God, or Allah, cutting its throat, and hanging it upside down so that all blood drains from the body completely. This ensures that the meat is completely free of potentially disease-carrying blood. There is an entire verse in the Quran dedicated to animals called Sura al Anaam, or Chapter of the Animals, that dictates ethical treatment, and even forbids using dead animals as feed.
“There is no reason the entire [student body] can’t eat halal meat,” Hendrickson said, “and it is so often that minority religions are asked to participate in majority religion activities.”
Bon Appetit adapted to meet increasing student requests within the past year. General manager of Bon Appetit Sarah Fried said that all managers must go through a 13-course online training that includes instructions on various religious dietary restrictions.
Bon Appetit still cannot find a constant halal meat supplier that meets all of its purchasing standards, and as a result not all dining halls are able to serve halal chicken.
Written by Talia Baddour ’20.