The lights go down in the Sadler Center’s Chesapeake rooms. The projector screen whirs to life as members of the College of William and Mary’s Muslim Student Association step aside to reveal the opening video of their annual Eid Banquet: a short titled “The Secret Life of Muslims.”
Tables packed, banquet attendees took in the video, which sought to debunk common stereotypes applied to individuals of the Muslim faith.
“A lot of people think Muslims look a certain way, but we want to break the stereotype,” MSA Social Chair Sophia Ennaboulssi ’21 said. “Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims.”
The video emphasized that there is not one specific way a Muslim needs to look or act, and that it is important to listen to and respect members of the faith.
“That’s what the video was trying to show. You can look around, and you might not even realize it; someone sitting right next to you could also be Muslim,” Ennaboulssi said. “There’s a lot of people that convert all the time, or their families are Muslim but not necessarily Arab, or they don’t look a certain specific way. There’s like, 1.7 billion of us in the world.”
MSA hosts its Eid Banquet every year in celebration of the Muslim festival, which is a significant social and religious event. The banquet held at the College is a combination of two Eids that are celebrated at different points in the year.
“We actually have two Eids: one Eid is Eid-al-Fitr, which is after Ramadan. … It’s a big celebration and feast that Ramadan is over,” Ennaboulssi said. “This one that we’re celebrating is Eid-al-Adha; it has a lot of religious significance. For this event, we combined both of them; it’s a big holiday, because we get together and do Jummah prayer and we’ll eat a lot of food. It’s a very social gathering.”
The banquet is one of MSA’s most prominently planned events, and they encourage students of all backgrounds to attend, eat, socialize and enjoy together.
“For the Eid banquet, we want to bring awareness to what it means to be Muslims and diminishing stereotypes, and just have everyone come from all over,” Ennaboulssi said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or not; just bringing all the students on campus to eat, share a meal, and enjoy performances and the guest speaker.”
MSA started organizing the event before the semester even began, according to MSA President Fay Dawodu ’20.
“The process of planning started over the summer; a lot of it involved communicating with SA and getting enough money,” Dawodu said. “The food is very important, because it’s the most significant part of Eid-al-Adha, so we wanted to make sure that we got enough food for everyone.”
Dawodu joined MSA in her freshman year in search of a religious community that she had not experienced in high school.
“I know a lot of people who go to Northern Virginia high schools had an MSA there, but I’m from Newport News, and we didn’t have an MSA at my high school,” Dawodu said. “When I heard about the MSA here, I was very intrigued; I went to the first meeting, and instantly I knew I wanted to be part of the club.”
For Dawodu, the MSA provided an environment of like-minded individuals and a community she deeply values.
“It’s given me a safe space to connect with people, just because not everyone understands what it’s like to be Muslim,” Dawodu said. “It’s nice to have other people who understand the things that you’re going through, especially at this majority white school.”
The “Secret Life of Muslims” video was followed by a brief talk by guest speaker Islam Bedir, a professor of computer programming from Hampton Roads. Bedir spoke on the significance of the creator in Islam, as well as Abraham’s journey.
“The speaker was an imam; he talked a lot about Eid-al-Adha and where that came about, and the story of Abraham,” Ennaboulssi said. “He brought historical background to why we celebrate the holiday.”
The process of finding a speaker for the event was initially a struggle, but MSA was able to find and invite Bedir in time for the banquet.
“It was really hard to find a speaker, especially in Williamsburg, because there aren’t a lot of Muslims around and there aren’t a lot of mosques around,” Dawodu said. “Usually, we go for professors at this university, but we had a couple professors transfer to other schools. We were able to get a professor outside of this university; it was very last minute, but we are so glad he came through for us and I think he did a great job.”
After Bedir’s talk, dinner was served, and three campus groups performed for the attendees: Griffin Bhangra, Syndicate Hip Hop Dance Team and Inside Out Theater. The banquet also featured a henna table at the side, where students could pay for intricate designs drawn onto their hands by MSA members.
Meredith Adkins ’23, who attended the banquet after being invited by a friend, enjoyed the performance segment of the event the most.
“I really liked the performances,” Adkins said. “The traditional dance was very neat because I hadn’t seen anything like it before.”
Adkins decided to come to the banquet in order to learn more about Eid and Islam.
“I knew Eid was a holiday, but I wasn’t aware of what exactly it entailed, so I wanted to come and be introduced to the culture,” Adkins said.
Rachel Batra ’23 also felt that she came away from the banquet with a better understanding of Eid’s importance.
“I learned more about the meaning behind it, and why this is such an important thing for a lot of people,” Batra said. “I really respect the sense of community that this club has.”
Dawodu hopes that banquet attendees walked away from the event with an open mind and a greater understanding of the Muslim religion.
“I hope that people had a great time, and that they will understand a little bit about what it’s like to be Muslim and what Eid-al-Adha is,” Dawodu said. “One of the most important things to understand is that Muslims are just like regular people. We might do some things differently just because of our religion, but I hope everyone took away at least something about Muslims and Islam.”