Last night, I had the privilege of attending the launch of The Big Iftar. (An Iftar is the break fast meal which Muslims eat at the end of each day of Ramadan.) The Big Iftar is a project, launched last year, encouraging Muslims on both a personal and communal level to share their Iftar with non-Muslims as a means of building bridges between communities.
Ramadan begins at the weekend, with the new moon, so last night’s event wasn’t actually an Iftar, but it featured food, music, prayer and a tremendous sense of excitement.
I was a bit apprehensive when I arrived, as pretty much the only non-Muslim in the room at that point. The phrase “bacon butty at a vegetarian barmitzvah” came to mind. Maybe “bacon butty at a vegetarian Iftar”? However, I soon found some friends, who introduced me to their friends, and the evening took off.
It was fascinating to “compare and contrast” a Muslim communal event with a Jewish one. My friend told me that often at Muslim charity functions they don’t put out the starter until people have pledged enough money. I wasn’t sure this could be true, but it turned out it was! There were several speeches, a couple of videos and the equivalent of a chazzan’s recital of a section from the Koran, before any food appeared.
Ah – the food. The organisers very kindly promised kosher food – great. However, when the starter appeared, there was no sign of any kosher food. The Muslims started to get rather embarrassed and several people on my table asked the waitresses about it. The delightful older lady sitting next to me was very concerned I wasn’t eating – was I vegetarian? Was it too spicy? But it’s halal – why can’t you eat it? Eventually the kosher food arrived and everyone was happy. Kudos to the waiting staff, who without a table plan, were able to deliver kosher food to the right people! The organisers had even tried to match the menu – who knew Kedassia caterers could come up with a very tasty Tandoori chicken?
More speeches, some awards, a very amusing appeal from a man in traditional Muslim clothing with a broad Scottish accent. Then one of the highlights of the evening – the music. The two singers are very well known in the Muslim community. The style was a cross between Karduner and The Maccabeats, with a touch of Matisyahu thrown in. The little boy on our table was ecstatic to hear them – obviously a bit of Uncle Moishy too. They were excellent and had the whole room swaying along with them. Well, almost the whole room – another similarity – the people who talked all the way through everything!
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra spoke very beautifully about Ramadan and how it is important not to focus on the food, but on the opportunity to grow through the experience and become closer to God – sounds familiar?
The event even finished with the opportunity for evening prayers, although the call to prayer was somewhat longer than “Maariv in the lobby, gentlemen”.
All in all, a fascinating evening: a chance to meet some interesting people and discover more about their religion and culture and an opportunity to build bridges.