Interfaith Ramadan events aim to counter hate

NEW YORK — This year’s Ramadan inspired a growing trend of interfaith iftar dinners as Muslim communities in the West welcomed their neighbors to the post-sunset fast-breaking meals.

Throughout May, colorful iftar invites dotted telephone poles, community newspapers and email inboxes. The month-long Islamic tradition is a celebration of Allah through prayer, fasting and self-reflection.

“Who’s afraid of us? An Iftar Against Hate,” one invite from the NYC Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee and Judaism that Stands for All (SAJ) read. The Memorial Day weekend event featured two journalists, one Muslim and one Jewish, tackling Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and how to combat hate.

Muslims for Peace hosted an iftar dinner in a Monroe, New Jersey senior center, featuring a panel of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders discussing their faiths. In Louisville, Kentucky, Muslim Americans for Compassion and Interfaith Paths to Peace even held their iftar at a Presbyterian Church.

In London, the Inclusive Mosque Initiative sent out invites for their outdoor Eid picnic and charity fundraiser June 5. Zakat, or alms-giving, is a pillar of Islam and traditionally given to the poor at the end of Ramadan.

“We hope you'll join us for the Eid takbeer, prayers, a special khutbah (sermon), and food,” the hosts wrote. “Please bring food to share as we won't be providing catering - vegan and gluten free are preferable!”

In D.C, America’s three Muslim members of congress co-hosted an iftar with Muslim Advocates in the U.S. Capitol, the nation’s first, while President Trump was criticized for hosting an iftar at the White House without American Muslims in attendance.  

There’s even a BBQ Eid and Shavuot party happening at Brooklyn Bridge Park this Sunday (after getting rained out last week), also organized by the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee. Shavuot is a major Jewish festival that commemorates when the Lord gave the ancient Jews their law or the Torah.

The prayer room at IRAP’s event in Chelsea, New York. Photo by Princess Jones.

The prayer room at IRAP’s event in Chelsea, New York. Photo by Princess Jones.

In Manhattan’s Chelsea district, people gathered for Halal buffet and dessert at a silent art auction to benefit Muslim, Arab and South Asian refugees in the U.S. The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), which helps refugees from around the world legally emigrate, hosted the iftar event to create a welcoming environment, according to the organizer Zahrah Devji.

“There are a lot of Iftar events in this city, and they're all fantastic,” Devji said. “But we wanted to sort of broaden this and make this almost like a cocktail event without the cocktail.”

As people admired the art and enjoyed the fun, others prayed downstairs in a dimly lit room covered with rugs. Extra scarves were provided for women.

In the same room in the corner, a video projected on the wall showed cities in conflict areas in the Middle East reduced to rubble and refugees telling stories of the tragedies they’ve faced.

Sangeetha, an NYU student and Hindu chaplain at her college, appreciated that not just Muslims were invited.

“My hashtag is the puja [Hindu prayer] queen, basically,” she said. “But it's like, every day I've been with them, setting up cleaning up, eating with them. And it's a chance not just to learn about their faith and their religion, but to make new friends and really develop relationships. They're a very welcoming community.”

Princess Jones is an intern with Religion Unplugged and an editorial clerk at the New York Post. She is a recent alumna of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tenn., and of the NYC Semester in Journalism at The King’s College in New York.