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Invitations to Iftar

A group of diners breaks the fast with iftar at Habib's Cuisine in Dearborn, Mich., in 2011. Photo by Brian Widdis/State Dept./Creative Commons

(RNS) — My first experience of an iftar, the meal that breaks the fast each evening during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was in Cairo more than a decade ago. I was studying abroad there and my new friend Nesma invited me to join her family in their apartment to break the fast.

I showed up a bit before sundown, watched a little TV with them, and then we drank milk and ate dates to break the fast. Over dinner, I learned more about what this holy month means to this Muslim family and to others observing Ramadan this year through mid-June.

That’s why I’m helping organize a campaign called United States of Love Over Hate: A Ramadan Supper Series. Thousands of Americans have signed up to share iftar with Muslims at more than 115 sites in 33 states. Participation is up significantly from last year when we had half as many states involved.

Taking part in iftar dinner is now easy, even for those who have no Muslim friends or acquaintances. Our campaign has compiled a nationwide listing of iftars that are open to Americans of all religious backgrounds. Anyone may request a seat at the table. If there’s not one near you, contact a local mosque to ask if you might attend one evening before Ramadan ends.

From my Cairo iftar experience in 2005, I learned Ramadan is a time for both deep personal reflection and grounding, for re-centering oneself on God. Nesma shared with me some of the spiritual poetry she’d written during her increased time in prayer that month. This practice of re-centering resonated with me as a Christian. I too try to set apart time in our fast-paced world to remember who I am and why I am here. I learned that Ramadan is a unifying thread for a diverse faith community as Muslims across the world share the common experience of fasting.

Since then, I’ve had a number of opportunities to share in fast-breaking meals with Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. They’ve occurred in homes, restaurants, mosques — even in churches and synagogues.

Guests break the Ramadan fast under tents and Iraqi decor at the Ali Baba Restaurant in El Cajon, Calif., on Aug. 3, 2011. Photo by Sandy Huffaker/State Dept./Creative Commons

These meals are usually quite ordinary. Many Muslims in the U.S. and around the world break the fast with family or friends in simple settings. I’ve been grateful to be invited into these moments, both ordinary and extraordinary. I’ve developed some of my most meaningful relationships over meals.

As I know from these friends, this is not an easy time to be a Muslim in the United States. American Muslims are experiencing increased hate crimes and bullying. Politicians in 49 states have been documented using anti-Muslim rhetoric to score cheap political points. Some of my friends say they have been afraid to wear hijab in public, have struggled to explain anti-Muslim remarks to their children and have wondered if the United States will ever fully accept them.

Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I also understand why it’s difficult for people who don’t know any Muslims to learn about a group of Americans who pray and worship God in ways different from their own. I invited some of my evangelical friends to an iftar a couple of years ago. They had never been to one and had no Muslim relationships. They were unsure of what to wear, how to act, or even how to define “iftar.” But they showed up.

By doing so, my evangelical friends engaged in conversation with a random selection of people seated at their table. They left saying how eye-opening the experience had been.

Before sharing iftar, they thought of Muslims as “foreign” to the United States. The dinner let them experience the diversity of the Muslim-American community. They met new immigrants along with those whose families had lived in this country for years, including some whose ancestors were forcibly brought here as slaves. They said they gained new appreciation for the many voices and perspectives within the Muslim community. Since then, some have even hosted Muslims at their churches for more interfaith conversations.

I’m under no illusion that getting non-Muslims to share meals with Muslims during Ramadan is going to solve our anti-Muslim bigotry problem in America. But relationships are valuable in and of themselves. We have seen that Muslims and non-Muslims working together at local levels can influence society and on politics. A dinner is a starting point for letting your own preconceptions be challenged and getting to know people from different backgrounds in your community. It’s up to each of us to build from there.

United States of Love over Hate is one way to cultivate relationships that can be both personally and politically powerful. When people gather for dinner in hundreds of homes, mosques, churches, synagogues and community centers across the country, it shows another way for our country. It shows a way in which people are valued and opinions come from real encounters rather than hearsay. Will you join me for dinner?

(Catherine Orsborn is director of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, a coalition of 55 religious denominations and faith-based organizations that works against religious bigotry and discrimination.)

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Catherine Orsborn

29 Comments

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  • “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:12
    “And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60

  • Your brand of Christian is too pious to offer a hand of friendship to people of devout faith different than yours? That is why there have been religious wars throughout human history, the failure to accept that not everyone will accept the invitation, but we still need to get along and understand them to have a peaceful world.

  • “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

  • “To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy” named Gabriel. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of idiocy which is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for non-believers.

  • Many of us on that narrow road can also get along with the many other humans of a different faith who share this planet with us.

  • Yet darkness cannot swallow up light, light overcomes darkness, as I pray my faith’s example might do. It’s better to light a single candle, than curse the darkness.
    David +

  • sandi is ever the bringer of wet blankets and ants to the beach picnic. The one clutching her pearls and sniffing with disdain at all those of deemed unworthy, via cut and paste piety.

  • But rather than return a stone for a stone, I’m feeling led to spread light, rather than smoke & fire.

    David+

  • I take it you’ve never dined with others of different faiths. It’s a wonderful and warm experience, a chance to meet and treat those different from you with respect and caring. You won’t burst into flames or develop weeping pustules about your body, your crops won’t fail or thieves strip you of all you own, you won’t be branded a heretic or paraded naked in the streets…I speak from experience.

  • “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)

    (John 3:19-21 ESV)”So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35 ESV) (edited)
    We don’t stop trying to help them though

  • I was deployed to the Persian Gulf during Ramadan and learned to appreciate the nightly iftars. One gathering took place on the edge of a gold souq and numbered well over 20. We learned that it was easier to break their fast near where they all worked and then depart to their scattered homes. We sat silently at our cafe table until their prayer was over. Very moving.

  • No Navy – Christ is the food that I bring to the picnic.
    “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 English Standard Version (ESV))

  • You bring darkness and condemnation to all those who don’t fall into blind devotion to your leader.

  • “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:5 NASB

  • Your bring rudeness, unkind thoughts, and disrespect for others who do not and or refuse to prostrate themselves before all the idols in and of your bible. This is not a good recruiting technique, trust me.

  • paul was speaking to folks who had many gods and worshiped in a public but often non believing way . lip service . idolatry .

    before there was islam, before the birth of mohammad, when christians translated the bible into arabic, the word used for god was the arabic “allah” . the fact that islam worships allah is no accident . they shared the same god as the jews and the christians . the qu’ran that mohammad transmitted to the people spoke of jesus and mary in glowing terms . the qu’ran speaks of the arabic people as descended from the first child of abraham : ishmael .

    as a committed christian we don’t have to think that islam is the way we would worship god . but we don’t have to slur islam either . it is not idolatry . it is worship of the same god that you and i have .

  • they think they share the same god. they do not. It is a cult. They do not worship the same god. You are mistaken.
    “”Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” 1 John 2:22 – English Standard Version

    “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” Romans 9: 6

  • your quotes don’t relate to the basic point . the moslems, the jews and the christians all worship the god who revealed himself to abraham . the moslems, the jews and the christians have all – all of us – have at one time or another questioned the legitimacy of the others .

    the quotes you bring up are paul’s theology showing how the promises made to the children of abraham, isaac and jacob went from a particular lineage to the whole world through jesus of nazareth . we share that belief .

    but that still does not mean that the jews or the moslems don’t believe that they worship the god of abraham .

  • I showed you scripturally, and through their book that they do not worship the same god.

  • how does the qu’ran quote that you have there prove your point ? short answer : it doesn’t . islam holds, as does classic judaism, god to be above and quite removed from anything of the flesh . here the qu’ran notes that some jews of the region of arabia held ezra to be a son of god in a more literal, not figurative, sense . that to their sense of monotheism was blasphemy against the god of abraham . and obviously they differ from the interpretation of most of christianity as to the divine nature of jesus .

    the qu’ran is filled with verses showing their love of abraham who they revere as a prophet, and their acceptance of the god of abraham as their god .

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