Posted on May 29, 2019
Four years ago, in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election, my husband and I were fasting in Ramadan and watching a sea of divisiveness wash across our country. We were going about our regular Ramadan schedule - iftars done mainly at home (to support my in-laws and autistic son’s regimented routine) with the occasional fast-breaking gathering our local masjid, a friend’s home or at a church for an annual interfaith iftar that happened in our city.
We should do something. We should connect with our friends and neighbors. Talk above this rhetoric, my husband said to me.
What do you have in mind? I asked him.
Let’s host an iftar for our neighbors and co-workers. Not a huge event, but invite mainly folks who are not Muslim, break fast with them and just have conversation over food. I know some of our friends are thinking the same thing, he told me.
And thus our now-annual “Neighborly Iftar” was born.
Our daughter addressing our guests right before iftar about why we fast.
We banded together with four other families, who had similar thoughts, and decided to rent out a local restaurant and invite over our friends from the community - neighbors, co-workers, parents we hang out with on soccer fields and at PTA meetings, our kids’ teachers and so on under the banner of good food and good conversation - the idea that by sitting together and actually conversing with each other on anything and everything, we could become better friends and members of our collective communities.
This year our group hosted our fourth “Neighborly Iftar,” which actually was the start of a weekend of similar iftars we also hosted for our children - Saturday being dedicated to a group of our daughter’s friends from high school and Monday devoted to our 11-year-old son and his friends.
It’s always so fun and enlightening to spend the evening breaking our fast with neighbors, co-workers and friends in Ramadan. In the vein of celebrity chef Amanda Saab’s Ramadan #DinnerWithYourMuslimNeighbor initiative, these evenings start out as a way for all of us to dialogue together about Islam but then relax into sharing the experiences and stories that bind us together as humans - fun stories about our kids in school, swapping neighborhood news, catching up about weekend activities and yes, sometimes commiserating about politics.
Humanizing each other is one of the best outcomes of these “Neighborly Iftars.” A 2017 Pew Research Center survey asked Americans to rate members of nine religious groups on “feelings thermometer” from 0-100, with 0 reflecting the coldest, most negative response. Overall Americans gave Muslims an average rating of 48 degrees, rating seven other religious groups higher and warmer, thereby more positive. So, how do we cultivate more warmth and friendship with each other? Iftars and dinners with non-Muslim friends, co-workers and neighbors are a small start. As our Community Manager Noor wrote,
“Simply put, it’s HARD to hate someone once you get to know them, but it’s easier to hate them when you stay away. We can all take part in bridging the gaps, one dinner/iftar at a time! Feeding and extending hospitality to our neighbors and community members is also an important part of Islam.”
One of our friends giving some opening remarks before iftar time.
We had some great, relaxing conversations with our friends on Friday and saw people coming together as they ate their dinner to discuss all sorts of fun and interesting things. The next day, my daughter’s friends came over for iftar at our home, and that was a beautiful thing for this mother to see. I wrote in a Facebook status update:
Hosting a gaggle of 15-year-old girls for an iftar party. Two (including daughter A) are fasting. Rest are not Muslim. The other girls are saying - we don’t want to eat until you break your fast too! Then they clapped and cheered for A when it was fast-breaking time!
When I was 15 and fasting in North Dakota, I neither hid nor advertised my Muslim-ness. I just tried to keep it on the down low. And, I never would’ve ventured to have an iftar party and invite all my friends - all of whom at that point were not Muslim. So yeah, lots of problems and hatred and anti-Muslim sentiment brewing these past few years. But lots of really nice things too 🙂
The kids are alright.
There’s still time left this Ramadan for you to invite your neighbors, co-workers or any other friends over to have iftar and fun conversations with you!
Let us know in the comments if you host such an iftar and how it went!