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New Muslim Center centralizes Ramadan celebrations

The Islamic holiday of Ramadan has arrived as it does every year, but with one important addition—Muslims on campus can finally celebrate it in a space of their own.

The new Center for Muslim Life, which opened December 2008, will serve as the focal point for the Ramadan celebration this year. This marks a drastic change from last year’s Ramadan at Duke, said Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli. Before the University gave the Muslim community the Swift Avenue building that now serves as the Center, Ramadan took the form of a hassle instead of a holiday.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset, and this ritual continues for approximately one month. Every evening, they literally “break fast” with iftars, dinners that act as festive, social events. In the past, though, Duke Muslims were forced from venue to venue for iftars.

“Monday at the [International] House, Tuesday, [the] Freeman Center… we were like nomads,” Antepli said. “That pretty much convinced Duke University to give a space to the Muslim community.”

The Center for Muslim Life, however, has done more than simply act as a roof over the heads of Muslim community members. It has also proven the ideal tool for both uniting and mobilizing the community. Antepli explained that in past years, Islamic prayer services consisted of no more than 20 people. Now, sometimes more than 120 people attend those same services. Active Muslims have appeared from seemingly nowhere with the consecutive arrivals of Antepli—who is in his second year as Duke’s first Muslim chaplain—and the Center, he said.

“Having a center just gives us more presence,” said junior Nabila Haque, co-president of the Muslim Students Association. “People are aware that there is a Muslim community at Duke now.”

MSA’s other co-president, junior Sobia Shariff, also said the new Center has benefited MSA.

“The reaction used to be like, ‘Oh, what’s MSA?’ Now it’s... ‘Oh the MSA—what are you guys doing now?’”

This increasing interest from the outside community reinforces a point made by Antepli.

“Even though this center is an important center for Islam and Muslims… this is not a Muslim cocoon,” Antepli said. “This is not a place where only Muslims hang out.”

The co-presidents both mentioned several instances of their non-Muslim friends relaxing at the Center as well as attending MSA events, religious and otherwise.   

Although Antepli is pleased with how successful the Center has been so far, its popularity is already becoming an issue.     

“We thought having space was going to solve all our problems—and it has… but… [the Center’s] not big enough,” he said. “We can only accommodate... 70 to 80 people maximum, but the number is more than 100 now.”

Although the Center accommodates classes and smaller prayer services well, large events like Iftar and Jummah, a weekly service, have begun to draw too large a crowd. For this reason, Ramadan iftars have relocated once more, this time to the York Room in the Gray Building.

Antepli said he hopes that eventually, his ambitions for a larger center are realized. But practically speaking, he said he does not expect to obtain a bigger space next year, nor the year after that.

“I am very much satisfied for now,” he said.


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