Protest sign that reads "Palestine with be free"

The University of Houston is ‘Ramadan-Washing’ a Genocide

As Ramadan enters its second week, companies have rolled out their Ramadan and Eid sale campaigns. Many brands, including but not nearly limited to Prada, Dior, and Coca-Cola, have released products or advertisements that appear to celebrate the Islamic tradition of fasting. With the growing number of Muslims worldwide, this PR stunt proves to be a successful business model for companies looking to hit their quarterly sales quota. However, this part of the neoliberal campaign for “more representation” often comes at the cost of Muslim community members suffering globally, a phenomenon we call “Ramadan-washing.” 

The University of Houston prides itself on being the 2nd most diverse major research university in the United States. The University of Houston’s Muslim Student Association group chat currently has over 1,100 members. For its large Muslim population, the University has opted to provide Halal food options at its two dining halls and some of its fast food restaurants. The University even advertised a Ramadan edition of the dining hall services, providing extended hours for those fasting and more Halal food options. 

While at first glance, this may be noted as a culturally conscious move on the University’s part, UH’s complicity in the suffering of a Muslim community abroad makes their Ramadan advertisements exploitative of Islam and its followers. The University is Ramadan-washing its blood-soiled products in the hopes of increasing dining hall sales at the expense of its Muslim students.

Since 2016, UH has invested more than $7 million in arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, and General Electric, among others. These companies design and produce military equipment used to murder Palestinian men, women, and children by the state of Israel. These companies also produce weapons used to enact state-sanctioned violence against marginalized communities within the United States. In 2022, the UH student body successfully mobilized to pass a Student Government Association Bill to divest from such companies. Yet the University administration has yet to follow up on these demands. 

The University also provides space on campus for other companies funding the Israeli military. Companies like McDonald’s, Sabra, and Starbucks have direct financial ties to the Israeli Occupation Forces through providing free meals, direct financial support, and anti-Palestinian union laws, respectively. By providing them with a platform to sell their products, the University of Houston is once again showing its complicity in active ethnic cleansing. How does the University expect its Muslim student population to attend its special Ramadan events when the dollars students spend on dining at UH are tied to the bullets killing their community members in Palestine? 

This is not the only case of Ramadan-washing that the Houston Muslim community is fighting. Earlier this month, the Annual City of Houston Mayor Ramadan Iftar organizers announced their Iftar dinner on March 17th, inviting Mayor John Whitmire and several Muslim community leaders and organizations. Mayor Whitmire himself has refused to call for a ceasefire despite community members asking at every single city council meeting since he took office in January 2024. To add to all of this, the City of Houston is financially supporting the occupation and land theft in Palestine. As recently as August 2023, the City of Houston held a $10 million Israeli bond, and the city’s Investment Policy singles out Israeli bonds. Again, why should Muslims support such an event when it is platforming politicians responsible for the killing of other Muslims abroad?

Co-opting a Muslim tradition to platform of genocide supporters is a premeditated attempt at reducing the teachings of Ramadan to fit the narrative of those selling Islamophobia, racism, and white supremacy to the world. The Muslim community does not need Ramadan-themed events or iftars with prominent politicians. The Muslim community needs the city’s politicians to stop supporting the killing of their brothers and sisters.

Many Muslim student organizations, community mosques, and local Islamic foundations submitted letters protesting this year’s Houston Iftar, with many boycotting the event and its organizers. Community members, youths, and elders came together to condemn an event aimed at normalizing relations with politicians who support genocide. The University of Houston chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has called for a week-long consumer strike from March 18th till March 22nd, intending to disrupt the local Houston economy that is starving Gazans of all ages. Additionally, we are calling for a complete boycott of UH Dining’s facilities and Ramadan events. Lastly, a new Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign moves to replace companies complicit in the genocide in Gaza with more local and ethical brands.

For UH SJP, boycotting not only serves as a grassroots political tactic but also teaches us that self-sufficiency, no matter how simple, can eventually allow us to break the American consumerist lifestyle that sustains global suffering abroad. The neoliberal strategy of appeasement that feeds the system of global subjugation will not work on young Houstonians. If money is the only language politicians will hear, then we will make our dollars speak on our behalf.

Section: Schooling
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