This anonymous post is the final submission in the Interfaith Ramadan 2015 series
A week of celebrating Iftar with friends and neighbours
At the start of Ramadan, a couple of Muslim friends said they would like to invite me round to break their fast with them at an iftar meal.
I thought about it and said I would love to join their families –but that on the days of each iftar I would also fast from early morning (2.30.am) to the time of the meal (in the first week it was 9.29pm and by the third week it was 9.22pm). However because of having MS and needing to take tablets I would carry a 500ml bottle of water with me and drink from it whenever I was feeling a bit dehydrated.
Over the last three weeks I have fasted on Mondays and Wednesdays, Setting my alarm for 2.30am and eating a banana and having a long glass of water. Then, would wait until I broke my fast with my friends, later that evening
This week I also fasted on Thursday.
I have spent time with five close female friends - British born Muslims and their children –who brought dishes to share and talked about the choices they had made to wear their Niqabs. We discussed why I had chosen to fast and what I had learnt about it, how to resist temptation, and how I had become aware of others encouraging me in my journey that day. My host J, has a daughter, S, who is in year 6 at the school where I work as a community cohesion coordinator. Unknown to me, A had told her entire class I was fasting and going to spend iftar with her family! As the day went on random children would come up to me and ask if it was true I was fasting and then ask how it was going! One child was going round with a tin of chocolates to share with staff on her birthday (A school tradition). She walked past me saying (I won't offer you one Miss as you are fasting!) Over the meal I asked S why she had told her friends I was fasting –she said –“because you want to understand us Muslims and we respect you “
My second iftar was with a large family of seven children. The oldest and youngest in the family have learning disabilities. The other children helped prepare the meal, ensured their siblings with disabilities enjoyed the family time around the table and talked openly about their faith. A programme was on the TV about giving during Ramadan and I shared about the Christian tradition of Tithing – something they were fascinated to learn about.
Meal three was with a close friend - I went with another friend of mine and we sat and talked with U about what our experiences of faith had been at different times in our lives. I spoke of working in Belfast with Protestant and Catholic young people in the 70’s. U spoke of the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims and how news reflects the negative rather than positive stories about Muslims . She also spoke about how she had to think hard about how to bring her children up to be strong in their faith but understanding of others perspectives.
We said an Islamic Grace at home number 4 and talked about how as a child I said grace at every meal. Once again the father of the family was astonished that Christians would pray as a family. He said he had never met a Christian (more specifically, white person) who went to church despite having lived in the UK for 20 years. He was happy for his wife and children to come to the interfaith Shadwell lunches to meet people of other faiths.
I went to the home of a Moroccan/Czech family and talked about why the husband had converted to Islam and how he found being an Eastern European Muslim in worshipping in a predominately Bengali mosque. The family had received a notice that they were to be evicted by their private landlord. They have no idea where they will live but we talked about how prayer had helped them cope with uncertainties and times my my own prayers had been answered.
My Somali friends shared about how their faith had kept them strong during two years of particular hardship. Having 5 sons (who all share a room in the two bed 18th floor flat) and knowing I had 4 sons myself, we talked about how to share faith with our children and how to encourage our children to show respect for people of other faiths.
My final iftar was with neighbours. We had invited our Muslim neighbour to come to us for iftar. Our friend was astonished to be invited to a Christians home for iftar and we talked about our lives, our children, our faiths. We were from Ghana, Scotland, Spain, India, and Malawi. At the end of the meal our neighbour trusted us to share her recent diagnosis of cancer and to ask for our prayers.
So what have I learnt through my week of iftars?
I have wondered why I don’t encourage other Christians in their spiritual journeys in the same way my Muslim friends have encouraged one another during Ramadan.
I felt part of a group of people who are on a faith journey
One friend texted me, “thank you for wanting to learn more about our faith and practice” another texted me, “how are feeling –be strong –pray your faith will help you cope with the heat”” I am really happy you have influenced your neighbours and got them to invite your Muslim neighbour we are so often misjudged and these meals give us time to talk about faith and community”
I have learnt to resist temptation – on the day it was 35°C in London I was so tempted to get an ice-cream. Instead I sat in a park and thought more about those without any food.
I enjoyed celebrating meals together with friends and want to invite more of my Muslim friends to mine to talk about Christmas and Easter. I have learnt not to be ashamed or hesitant about my faith but to be open and honest and in sharing with others.
I have thought more about fasting as a spiritual exercises and am investigating the Greek orthodox tradition of twice week fasting.
Would I do it agaim?
Definitely! Already looking forward to next year! Unfortunately I will miss Eid as I am off on holiday this week for two weeks with a Hindu friend – I will be living with her family in Mauritius and so will learn more about sharing my faith and learning from other traditions.
J is a community cohesion worker in East London