The nacho table in the Hickey Memorial Dining Hall instantly grabs Mahmuda’s attention. After waiting in a line full of hungry students, she finally gets her chance to fill her bowl. She piles cheese, salsa, tomatoes and sour cream onto her corn chips and heads back to her table.
Placing her nachos on the lunch table, Mahmuda holds her cardigan close to the middle of her chest, hiding the shirt she wears underneath, and sits down to munch.
After she finishes her chips, Mahmuda passes by the food stations, looking to satisfy her hunger.
A plate piled high with specially made chicken nuggets cools off near the grill, waiting for her, specifically her, to snatch them.
“Come on, guys! Eat!” Mahmuda offers her secret stash of nuggets to her table of friends.
Gary, an Aramark employee who works in the Hickey, catches up to Mahmuda at her table and apologizes because someone took the second plate of chicken nuggets he made for her.
Mahmuda does not mind, but why does she get to order chicken nuggets whenever she wants?
Less than 1 percent of the St. Bonaventure University student population is Muslim, according to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) survey distributed to incoming freshmen.
Mahmuda is one of them.
The senior biology major says she tries her hardest to remain faithful to her religion, including following a restricted diet. In addition, the Five Pillars of Islam consist of reciting the profession of faith (shahadah), praying five times a day (salat), giving alms (zakat), fasting during Ramadan (sawm) and traveling to Mecca if possible (hajj), according to BBC.
A Muslim should pray before dawn, around lunchtime, mid-afternoon, evening and night. However, besides practicing the Muslim religion, Mahmuda is a full-time student at St. Bonaventure.
“I have class and then research and then work at night, so I end up praying three out of five of the prayers at one time at night before I go to sleep,” says Mahmuda.
Usman Jilani, a senior biology major, bought an iPhone app called iPray that he uses to pray in the correct orientation, facing the direction of Mecca.
Usman and Mahmuda unroll their prayer mats in that direction every day for private, individual prayers. However, every Friday they pray with others.
Usman and Mahmuda say that during their first visits to St. Bonaventure, they found a mosque close to campus, a requirement for any school they would attend. They go to mosque for the Friday sermon at the Islamic Society of Southern Tier in Olean, N.Y.
Myra Khan knew that St. Bonaventure did not have a big Muslim student population. However, that did not stop the senior childhood studies major from enrolling. “Coming to a Catholic school didn’t really affect me,” says Myra. She thinks the Catholic atmosphere did not affect her because she is not very religious.
Usman understood that St. Bonaventure was a Catholic university with few Muslim students and a nearby mosque. “Going to a Catholic school doesn’t mean that that religion is bestowed upon you,” says Usman.
According to recent articles, the Higher Education Research Institute says that Catholic colleges have increased their enrollment of Muslim students. For instance, the amount of Muslims at Catholic University has doubled over the past five years.
Mahmuda says she applied to St. Bonaventure because of its Catholic standards and academic programs. Perhaps this is why other Muslim students attend Catholic universities.
St. Bonaventure requires their students to take two religion classes: Foundational Religious Texts of the Western World and The Catholic-Franciscan Heritage. Usman loved the required classes. “Who doesn’t want to learn more?” he asks. No one should be ignorant towards learning other religions.
The director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern Sister Suzanne Kush says she has worked to create more interfaith programs outside of the classroom.
On October 27, 2011, St. Bonaventure hosted a prayer service for everyone in the St. Bonaventure area, no matter the person’s religion. Also in the fall, St. Bonaventure hosted an Abrahamic traditions panel, inviting a Jewish professor, a leader of Muslim prayer services and a Franciscan friar to speak.
“Correct information is very important and breaks down barriers,” says Sister Suzanne.
Sister Suzanne plans to continue increased interfaith appreciation next semester by basing a discussion off of In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan: Catholics and Muslims Working Together for the Common Good by Marvin L. Mich.
Besides its academics and togetherness, a Catholic school is more conservative than non-religious schools, says Mahmuda.
Being Muslim means being modest. “Modesty in all respects: what you wear, what you do, how you act, just everything,” says Usman.
“In the summer, I’m stuck wearing jeans and full sleeves,” says Mahmuda.
At St. Bonaventure, students living in the residence halls must walk from their rooms to the bathrooms to shower. “I have a full-sleeved robe, and then I use another thing to cover my feet when I’m walking,” says Mahmuda.
Mahmuda, a Muslim with Bangladeshian heritage, does not participate in the dance activities hosted by Asian Students in Action because of her conservativeness.
Asian Students in Action (ASIA) hosts gatherings throughout the year, including a Diwali festival, a Hindu celebration of lights in the fall. While many of the students in the dance group are Hindu, others simply want to educate the St. Bonaventure community on different traditions.
“[Muslims] are not supposed to be dancing out in public like that, which is why I’m not in the dance,” says Mahmuda.
Instead of the fall holiday of Diwali, Mahmuda and Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan by fasting during the day for about a month.
“We have to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to eat something before our fast,” says Mahmuda. Aramark employees pack food at night for any student observing Ramadan. “They pack whatever you want: grilled cheese, chicken patties, sandwiches.”
“Freshman year, Usman told them about our eating habits, and they were nice enough to order halal meat for us,” says Mahmuda. Now, St. Bonaventure provides food specific to the diet of a Muslim person who follows the food restrictions.
After indulging in nacho chips, Mahmuda satisfies her hunger with a few halal chicken nuggets. Usman snatches some, too, before they leave the dining hall and resume their activities as biology students at St. Bonaventure.