By Das K
Last week, the centre where I work—a Christian ecumenical organization engaged in trying to promote interfaith harmony and understanding—hosted an Iftar party. It does that every year. More people than I had expected turned up: some 200 in all! They included Maulvis from a nearby madrasa, several Muslim businessmen, and students, working women and housewives, half a dozen Christian pastors, ten graduates of various Protestant seminaries, a Catholic nun, a Sikh interfaith activist and a fair number of Hindus. There were also probably at least some others who, like me, do not identify themselves with any one particular religion. All of these people had generously responded to our centre’s invitation to break that day’s roza fast together, in interfaith company.
And what a wonderful party it was! We spread out sheets on the floor for people to sit down on and rolled out mats to serve as dining cloths. We had special food cooked in giant vats, fed by wood-fuelled fire. Respecting traditional Muslim custom, we made arrangements for men and women to break their fast and pray in separate halls, although later we ate together.
The programme started half an hour before the fast was to end with a short welcome address by our Director, a Protestant pastor and an ardent advocate of interfaith harmony and dialogue. He referred to Ramzan as a ‘holy’ month of fasting (what a wonderful gesture for our Muslim friends that was, I thought) and spoke of what a great pleasure it was for our centre to be able to host that day’s Iftar for the many Muslims who had accepted our invitation. He referred to the spiralling violence in Gaza and other parts of West Asia, said a prayer for peace and noted that such conflicts cannot be solved without consistent efforts for promoting interfaith understanding and collaboration—precisely the sort of thing that we were doing in our own small way that evening.
After that, a retired Protestant bishop and then a Muslim professor of Arabic spoke on the importance of fasting in their respective faith traditions and on the significance of, and need for, inter-community dialogue. Then, following a short dua or supplication, led by a madrasa-trained maulvi, we began munching on our iftar!
Following this, our Muslim guests offered prayers, and then we all had a lovely meal together!
Don’t you think that was just wonderful: a Christian organization hosting a party to mark and honour the religious observance of people of another faith—in this case, Muslims? For a Christian institute to invite Hindus for a Christmas party or for a Hindu organization to invite Muslims to celebrate Diwali or for Muslims to call over Christians and Hindus for Eid is one thing. But for a religious organization to honour the festival of another community is, I think—and I know you will agree—really quite uncommon. It was this that made our Iftar party that evening particularly different and special. What was even more beautiful about it was how it brought people from different faith traditions to sit together—for some, perhaps for the first time ever in their lives—to collectively adore God and to express their communion in the form of a common Dua and a shared meal.
I thought that was simply amazing! I’m sure you think too.
Imagine if more organizations such as the one I work with go interfaith: Muslim organizations start to organize Diwali or Buddha Purnima parties to promote better relations with their Hindu and Buddhist neighbours, Jewish organizations hold Eid Milans and functions to honour the birthday of Guru Nanak, and Hindu groups have get-togethers on the Parsi New Year or Easter. Wouldn’t that be lovely?