Ramzan is probably the best time to celebrate the essence of being Muslim. It is also a time to show gratitude and compassion. This Ramzan, twelve Muslim women came together to arrange Interfaith Iftaar parties for everyone who had never been invited to one before.
"I wondered what about the 67% who don’t have a Muslim friend? I wondered if there could be many who thereby never get invited to our homes and Iftaar? Is that why there are so many misconceptions about Muslims in general?”
Given how social media today is helping bring people bring together, these Interfaith Iftar parties too began with a simple Facebook post. Entrepreneur Nazia Erum posted on her Facebook wall asking if there was any one who had never been to an Iftaar. “I was expecting a couple of replies, but in fact I received over 30 responses,” Nazia told SheThePeople.TV. She added, “It is said that social media spreads hatred, but if used wisely it can spread love too. This whole initiative was coordinated through Facebook and Whatsapp. And all the co-hosts and guests met physically offline for the first time at the Iftaar itself.”
While that single post became the foundation of an interfaith Iftaar party concept, Nazia has had this concern for a while about stereotypes and prejudices needing to be dismantled.
Talking about what prompted this idea, she said, “While writing my book, Mothering a Muslim, I realized that we live in our silos. Also a recent CSDS study said only 33% of Hindus consider a Muslim among their close friends. We have always been having iftaars in our homes but have been inviting neighbours, friends and colleagues over. So I wondered what about the 67% who don’t have a Muslim friend? I wondered if there could be many who thereby never get invited to our homes and iftaars? Is that why there are so many misconceptions about Muslims in general?”
It was this curiosity that forced Nazia to put up the Facebook post that started a revolution.
Many other Muslim women joined her in her effort to fulfil the logistics of the Iftaar. The women who contributed to the initiative comprised of Firdous Sheikh, who is a biker, Hana Mohin Khan, who is a pilot, historian Rana Safvi, lawyer Seema Rao, Journalist, Sumaira Khan, researcher Meera Rizvi, writer Tabassum Zaidi, TV producer Gunjan, Chef Shehla and Blogger Rukhsar Saleem.
The Iftaar parties took place in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Guwahati where the gates were opened to everyone who wanted to attend it. Nazia told us how it was different from a regular Iftaar party, “Guests were all strangers, and mostly who had never been to an Iftaar or a Muslim household before. In fact, to top it all, even the 12 co-hosts were mostly strangers to each other. Amina Mirza, who resides in USA, couldn’t be there physically but helped in monetary support for overheads.”
The initiative itself brings out the need to connect with different faiths as we live in a multi-cultural country. And as the initiative spread to different cities, it merged with a few social causes as well. In Guwahati, it was replicated by a blind school, organised by Teresa Rehman and in Delhi, it took place with about 60 girls from different orphanages and NGOs in attendance.
People from other religions found the experience “enlightening.” Kunal Chhatwani, who works in Deloitte in Gurgaon, said, “Being my first ever Iftar in a Muslim household, from my vague interpretation of the traditions surrounding Ramzan, I obtained clarity on why the fasts are observed, their significance, the importance of purity of thoughts while fasting, and the humanistic concept of charity i.e. Zakat.”
"Being my first ever Iftaar in a Muslim household, from my vague interpretation of the traditions surrounding Ramadan, I obtained clarity on why the fasts are observed, their significance, the importance of purity of thoughts while fasting, and the humanistic concept of charity i.e. Zakat."
He added, “I was also surprised to realize that even traditionally Iftars are not supposed to be restricted to one faith, and an important aspect of it is community get-togethers, like the one I was lucky to be a part of. Not to mention the warmth and the cordiality of the hosts made it a really memorable evening.”
Another guest, Abha Singh, lawyer in Mumbai, said, “When I saw them together at the iftaar, I could never believe that girls in Muslim community are so accomplished.”
Safvi, who is a noted historian shed light on the essence of Ramzan and said, “The essence of Ramzan is to learn self discipline and control over all base instincts not just hunger and thirst. One must also self introspect and get rid of all that's bad within us.
Iftaar is the opening of the fast with lawful sustenance given to us by Allah. It's a time of remembrance and gratitude to Allah for his blessings and a time to share our food and blessings with friends and family.”
The last Iftaar party happened in Delhi at Nizamuddin with underprivileged girls on Monday this week. Talking about it, Nazia said, “We need to reach out to all ages and that’s why we did one at a blind school and among young girls (age 15-20). We also wanted to do one at old age homes but perhaps, next year.”
The key takeaway for Nazia, who organised the event in the first place, was the surprised look on the guests’ face to see so many articulate women achievers among Muslims to take an initiative for interfaith harmony. “We hope to replicate this throughout the year in various ways. Stereotypes about Muslim women, our homes and our traditions need to be broken, and what better way to do it than over food. Breaking breads together can lead to breaking stereotypes.”