The sun had set, everyone had completed their Maghrib prayer, and the smell of grilled chicken filled the room. Everyone was clearly hungry -- no one had eaten since sunrise -- but no one wanted to be first to hit the buffet.
It took encouragement by the evening's two organizers, Fatima Wagdy and Galym Imanbayev, both Stanford undergrads, to get the crowd of 40 to the table on Saturday, Aug. 28.
The Islamic Society of Stanford University hosts social and religious events, such as Friday prayers and Ramadan iftar meals (that break Ramadan fasting), "to create a home away from home," President Wagdy said. Egyptian and Costa Rican, she grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Sophomore engineering student Navid Chowdhury, 20, promotes Islamic social and political events on campus as vice president of the Muslims Student Awareness Network.
"Your responsibility is to set a positive example of Islam," he said, indirectly addressing the Ground Zero mosque controversy and quieting the conversations before him. "I don't want people to know about Islam from what a handful of radicals have done -- I want them to know what the 1.5 billion peaceful and loving Muslims have done."
The reputation of Islam was damaged when terrorists flew the planes into the towers, Chowdhury noted. "You can't change people's perceptions of Muslims overnight -- it takes longer to repair a damaged reputation than it does to ruin a good one."
Born in Bangladesh, Chowdhury spent much of his childhood at an international school in Swaziland. Ignorance fuels Islamophobia, he said.
Many non-Muslims also take part in the Ramadan iftars, Chowdhury said. The Islamic Society encourages community outreach, and every year they invite the Stanford Police Department to their Ramadan iftar meals. People also bring non-Muslim friends.
"The event is inclusive -- we're meant to share it with the community," Islamic Society Vice President Imanbayev said. Some nights a bible study group that shares the building joins the iftar.
This year Ramadan started Aug. 11 and will run until Sept. 9. During the month, Muslims typically fast from sunrise to sunset to experience what those less fortunate feel, Imanbayev said. Originally from Kazakhstan, he grew up in Portland, Oreg.
The Islamic Society of Stanford University includes members from over 24 countries and encompasses many branches of Islam -- Sunni, Shiite and others. "Every member has something to offer, whether it's news or stories from home, or a different perspective," electrical engineering undergrad Salahodeen Abdul-Kafi said. He grew up in Missouri, but his parents are from Iraq.
The Islamic community's annual events and frequent get-togethers helped him adjust to Stanford life, Imanbayev said. After students arrived on campus in September, the society hosted a Fajr (early morning prayer) on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. They met up for an early IHOP breakfast, and then headed north, arriving at the Golden Gate to pray, just before sunrise.
Atif Khan, CEO and founder of deeda, a Web-based start-up that connects customers with local businesses offering discount services, moved to Palo Alto recently.
"Part of our faith is to take care of strangers," Khan said. "We embrace you like family, no matter where you're from."