This Dinner Party Invites People Of All Faiths To Break Bread Together

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which we’re in the middle of right now, it’s traditional to break the fast in mosques and homes. In fact, you’re supposed to be in congregation with others. This was the notion behind the project which was started by Omar Salha, who initially started the event for students, many far from their homes in Muslim-majority countries, it quickly expanded — incorporating people of different faiths, or no faith at all, or those who just happened to be passing by.

The first Open Iftar in the United States was held last year in Portland, Oregon. And this year, the event was especially charged, coming less than 24 hours after two people were killed standing up to anti-Muslim violence. Over 600 people turned out for the Open Iftar at a local community center, sitting on folding chairs and on the ground, indoors and out. Many had never really sat down with their Muslim neighbors before, but felt compelled to show up and show support.

The Virtual Iftar Project

The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is an international multimedia initiative that brings people across various cultures together at the dinner table. Breaking bread and barriers in one go, this platform launched the Virtual Iftar Project across Europe during the month of Ramadan, which has just ended. Roma Rajpal Weiß spoke to the project founder, Eric Maddox, about the project and about cultural tension between Muslims and non-Muslims

What motivated you to launch the Virtual Iftar Project in Europe?

Eric Maddox: It is a combination of factors. I spent quite a bit of time living in the Middle East and North Africa over the past few years for the Virtual Dinner Guest Project, with the idea being to connect across cultures that have some sort of political, cultural or social conflict. The focus was the Middle East because the United States has left a pretty big footprint in that part of the world and people clearly have mixed feelings about that, to put it delicately.

This project has been a platform to facilitate opportunities for people and depoliticise the environment across a universal social form at the dinner table. It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those with whom we have broken bread. So that was the original impetus for doing it.

The Virtual Dinner Guest project is not very different from the Virtual Iftar Project. Recent events inspired me to narrow my focus for the month of Ramadan. It has been at the back of my mind for a few years to do this, but this is the first year that I actually saw an opportunity to do it.

There has been heavy media focus on the attacks that have taken place in Europe. There have been attacks that have been taking place in many countries, but there has been a lot of publicity. It is hard to say whether it is intercultural tension or whether that’s just the media narrative. We see a lot of news articles and content that seem to suggest that there is a lot of cultural tension between Muslim and non-Muslim communities – or immigrants who happen to be Muslim or not – and “the native population” in different countries. Not just in Europe, but in the West.

What is motivating me to address this particular issue right now is this media narrative, I don’t even know if I want to call it a climate of fear and mistrust of how to separate the reality on the ground from what is being presented by the media. Do people genuinely not trust each other in Europe, in the US, the Western countries, in the Muslim and non-Muslim communities? Or is it just a hyped-up media narrative? People are being told that this is widespread. I wanted to go out and personally gauge the distance between perception and presentation and reality on the ground.

A Virtual Iftar Project dinner (photo: Eric Maddox)

A Ramadan road trip film: “This project has been a platform to facilitate opportunities for people and depoliticise the environment across a universal social form at the dinner table,” says project founder Eric Maddox

How was your experience filming the project?

Maddox: On the whole, I would say that people were very receptive to the street interviews in all of the communities where we completed the project. Our filming focused primarily on the cities where we hosted our Virtual Iftar exchanges: Pristina, Kosovo; Marburg, Germany; and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. However, we also took time to film and talk to people as we travelled across Europe. I would point out that circumstances are definitely quite different for our filmmaking partners in Gaza, Egypt and Pakistan. Those are the places that we connected to with our Virtual Iftar tables.

One thing that I really want people to take away from this project is the understanding that the value of the films goes way beyond the end product. The Virtual Iftar participants are closely involved in each stage of the film-making process. When the Virtual Iftar exchange is over, each of our participants is challenged to go out and interact with their own communities to find people with whom they might not normally engage in their own cultural context.

Put another way, this project is an invitation to people to engage with their own communities as more than a platform for international connections. That has to be the first priority in any initiative like this one. If we don’t know our own communities, how can we speak about them and represent them accurately to others?

How did you find your hosts across Europe, and what has the experience been like?

A Virtual Iftar Project dinner (photo: Eric Maddox)

Challenging, rewarding and life-defining. “This project is an invitation to people to engage with their own communities as more than a platform for international connections. That has to be the first priority in any initiative like this one. If we don’t know our own communities, how can we speak about them and represent them accurately to others?” says Maddox

Maddox: It’s really been an interesting experience. We set out to try and stay exclusively with members of the Muslim community across Europe, but it quickly became clear that our tight schedule would require a more open and organic approach.

In Kosovo, young members of the Albanian Muslim community hosted us for the first week. This was a core group of young women who helped us to organise everything related to the Virtual Iftar exchange and the film-making, took us out in the evenings, and went out of their way to answer questions and made sure we saw as much as possible in our short time in Kosovo. From there, friends of friends lined up places for us to stay all along the way. We basically crowd-sourced our accommodations across Europe, and it has been amazing to see where the wave of social media has floated us.

At one point, friends connected us to an Al Jazeera journalist in Sarajevo, a Croatian guy who hosted us and ended up driving us all the way to Zagreb to stay in his family home for a few days. Though we have stayed with Muslims and non-Muslims on our travels, a huge network of Middle East connections and Muslims from across the MENA region have made this European road trip possible. Basically I just post on Facebook that we’re about to show up in “X” city, and this amazing network of people gets together and just makes it happen. Slovenia is the only place where we had to pay for a place to stay, and that was more because it was really last minute.

What did you learn from the people you met?

Maddox: People want this idea to succeed. Not everyone is in a position to make a financial contribution, but so many people have contributed a place to stay, a hot meal (one guy in Serbia insisted on paying for my dinner when he found out that I spoke a little Arabic … our only common language), a few hours of assistance with translating our street interview footage, contacts in various communities to ensure that we have access to a broad range of voices, local insights about their communities, and even a car ride from Sarajevo to Zagreb.

We’ve learned so much from this trip (including how much work it is to produce something like this on a very limited budget while travelling), and it makes one thing very clear … this should be the first of many Virtual Iftar Projects. I would love to do this every year, perhaps taking a road trip across the US or different European countries, or Africa, etc. in the future. It’s been challenging; but most rewarding and life-defining experiences are.

Interview conducted by Roma Rajpal Weiss

7/7 bombings: British Muslims use ‘breaking the fast’ at Ramadan to remember victims

Mosques all over the UK will open their doors to people of all faiths and none tonight during the “Iftar” meal at sunset on the 10th anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings.

The “Peace Iftars”, which have already begun taking place, are a chance to “remember and pray for all victims of terrorism and stand in solidarity in peace”.

Today’s events are set to take place around the country with mosques inviting their local communities to join in commemoration and to “break bread with Muslims as they break their fast in this holy month of Ramadan”. A national “Iftar” has been organised at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London.

The Islamic Cultural Centre said: “Our thoughts, our prayers and condolences go out to all the victims of these terrible terrorist attacks. As citizens and co-workers of this great city, we share the concerns and fears of fellow Londoners. We use the same transport and live and work in the same buildings and any attack is an attack on us all.”

At Friday prayers this week, the Muslim Council urged imams to discuss the 7/7 anniversary and more recent terror attacks including in Tunisia. The religious leaders were encouraged to remind people “that these killers do not respect the sanctity of life as laid down in Islam”.

Mosques in London, Birmingham and Nottingham will dedicate their 'Iftar' meal at sundown to the victims and survivors of the 2005 terrorist attacks
Mosques in London, Birmingham and Nottingham will dedicate their ‘Iftar’ meal at sundown to the victims and survivors of the 2005 terrorist attacks

Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “Despite the evil that was visited upon us on 7/7, we come here hoping for peace and praying for a world free from violence.”

Chances for money making during Ramadan

According to Ali Topal, owner of restaurant chain Meram (in Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and Ahmed Ait Moha, researcher at Motivaction, many owners of for example restaurants and shops, do not realize their chances of money making during Ramadan. They don’t realize the needs and wishes of Muslims, for example for restaurants to extend their opening hours. Partly this may be due to a lack of information, but it might also be that owners hesitate to do something ‘only’ for their islamic customers.

Flickr / raasiel
Flickr / raasiel

Arab American group urges boycott of White House Iftar dinner

July 14, 2014

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.

Like George W. Bush before him, Obama has hosted an Iftar dinner — the meal after sunset that breaks the day of fasting — each year he’s been in office. Other federal agencies, including the State Department, also hold iftar dinners to commemorate the holiday.

The ADC, the nation’s largest Arab American group, issued a statement citing both the administration’s support for Israel’s bombing campaign in response to airstrikes by the militant group Hamas as reasons not to participate in the administration’s celebrations.

Obama remains overwhelmingly popular with Muslims, although he has recently come under fire since Glenn Greewald and Murtza Hussain reported former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had documents indicating the NSA had conducted surveillance on five American Muslim leaders.

The custom of celebrating Ramadan in the White House dates back at least to 1996, when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner during Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted in an e-mail Monday that the tradition may go back two centuries, according to accounts from the nation’s early days.

“Some consider President Thomas Jefferson to have hosted the first Iftar by a U.S. president, as he hosted a sunset dinner with an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago,” Meehan wrote. “The invited guests tonight include elected officials, members of the diplomatic corps, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.”

Breaking the Ramadan fast in the company of Jews

July 10, 2014

(RNS) Muslim tradition calls for breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening with a date and a sip of water, and increasingly these days, the company of Jews.

Muslim-Jewish iftars are popping up across the nation, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of people for a celebratory Ramadan meal and a chance to forge interfaith friendships.

This Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims exchange rocket fire in Israel and Gaza, those attending these meals say they are all the more significant, as a way of demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company.

In Los Angeles on Thursday (July 10), an iftar that bills itself as the single largest gathering of Muslims and Jews in the city, is sponsored by NewGround, an organization that works year-round on Muslim-Jewish relations. The group exists to build resilient relationships that both groups can draw upon in particularly difficult times, said Rabbi Sarah Bassin, NewGround’s former executive director.

“Yes, we are in another awful flare-up of violence and both of our communities are suffering,” Bassin said. “That will be acknowledged at the iftar.”

At Muslim-Jewish iftars, particular attention is paid to food. In Los Angeles, the meal will be both halal and kosher, in keeping with both Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, which often overlap. Neither faith community eats pork, for example. Out of respect for Muslim tradition, no alcohol will be served.

Some of these interfaith Iftars will be hosted in mosques or other Muslims institutions — on Sunday (July 13), for example, at the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies in Cary, N.C. Others will take place in synagogues.

Iftar at the White House- Navigating Power, Privilege & Justice in Ramadan

Last week, I was among several dozen Muslims who attended an iftar at the White House with President Obama. This has now become an annual tradition where the President extends greetings to the Muslim community and occasionally chooses to speak to other relevant issues. Two years ago, for example, President Obama selected this occasion as a platform to weigh in on the sensational anti-Muslim hysteria taking place in the debate around the proposed Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan, otherwise known as the Ground Zero Mosque. At the time, the critique was mainly from extreme edges of the right wing who managed to make some noise about the President’s alleged “pro-Muslim” leanings.

This time around, most of the push back regarding the iftar I heard was coming from voices within the Muslim community.

-So why did I attend?
I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization that organizes around a number of key issues impacting low-income communities of color while providing direct services to those same community members.

I went because I believe in the process of critical engagement which I define as a long-term commitment to shape, deeply inform and/or passionately contest the often disparate policies and conditions that govern our lives or sustain profound inequalities in the world. Such a process carries with it an admission that we certainly will make mistakes along the way and perhaps even fail to insert ourselves more forcefully around an issue or two.

Ramadan is an ideal time to interrogate how far our private and public actions are from the loftier ideals that our faith traditions call us to. It is a perfect time to scrutinize the privilege that some of us disproportionately benefit from and to honestly consider all the types of unjust power structures and policies we contribute to through our tacit support or deafening silence.

Breaking bread and Islam myths

Mosques have been opening their doors to people of all faiths, and none, to share iftar, the meal Muslims have when they break their fast each evening during Ramadan. These events have been taking place in scores of community centres, living rooms, parks – even flash mobs – across the country.

 

It’s all part of the “Big Iftar”: a month-long opportunity to show Islam in practice. It comes at a time when myth-busting is more important than ever; research earlier this year showed that nearly half of all Britons thought that a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam was inevitable, and less than a quarter thought that Muslims were compatible with the British way of life.

 

This follows unprecedented crackdowns on anti-Muslim hatred. The setting up of a cross-government working group to advise the government on Islamophobia and the government being the first to fund an organisation to record anti-Muslim attacks and support victims.

 

We can take inspiration from the Somali community of Muswell Hill, whose centre was razed last month. With the help of the Al-Khoei foundation, they held their own Big Iftar this weekend, to which they invited Mr Pickles. This is a community which has defied those who tried to create division; it has kept calm and carried on. And there couldn’t be anything more British than that.

Candidates Court Muslims as They Break Their Fast

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and one of the leading Democratic candidates for mayor, walked into a clubhouse in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, just as people had started to eat and was escorted straight to the buffet.

 

“I’d like to say I planned it,” Ms. Quinn joked.

 

She grabbed a plate, sat down, set aside her fork and picked up one of the stuffed vine leaves sitting on her plate.

 

The event at Dyker Beach Golf Course was an iftar, a meal to break the daylong fast during Ramadan, hosted by local Muslim Americans. For Ms. Quinn and several other candidates who attended, it was just another stop on a busy campaign trail. But for the Muslim community, it represented an opportunity to make its voice heard and build bridges with key government figures.

 

Among those present was John C. Liu, the New York City comptroller who is also a Democratic mayoral candidate; he arrived shortly after Ms. Quinn and settled on the other side of the room. Sal F. Albanese, another Democratic candidate, had come and gone. State Senator Eric Adams, a Democrat who is running for Brooklyn borough president, sat in a corner of the room. And a group of Brooklyn police officers occupied a table next to Ms. Quinn’s.

 

“I don’t remember, ever before, the Muslim community having this kind of a presence in a citywide election” Ms. Quinn said.

 

Her observation struck a chord.

Naji Almontaser, an American citizen born in Yemen, sat across the table from Ms. Quinn and said that reports about police surveillance of mosques and other Muslim institutions had agitated the community and driven more people to speak out over the last two years.

Collective makes appeal to Muslim shop owners during Ramadan

RTBF

11.07.2013

Egalite, sans guillements (Equality without quotation marks), a social collective, has decided to make an appeal to Muslim show owners to offer cheaper aliments to socioeconomically weak Muslims during Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is traditionally coined by high expenditures for festive iftar meals following the breaking of the day-long fast after sunset. A Muslim family in Belgium spends in average 60 to 70 Euro for one iftar meal.  A significant amount of Belgian Muslims are, however, unable to afford such expensive meals during Ramadan.

Egalite, sans guillements argues that Ramadan is the month of sharing and conviviality, thus shop owners should in this tradition enable all Muslims to participate in the iftar celebrations. Due to a sharp rise in earnings during Ramadan, in average three times more halal products are sold during the month, shop owners should be able to still make profits whilst making concessions to help fiscally restraint Muslim families.