This Sunday marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan for those of the Islamic faith, when millions of Muslims across the world begin a period of fasting, prayer, reflection and charity. From sunrise to sunset, those that participate in the religious observance will forego food and water on a daily basis, breaking their fasts only after the sun dips below the horizon with an Ifthar feast.
After a day of going without sustenance, Ifthar are often lavish affairs with hearty food, enjoyed with family and friends.
Breslau Mennonite Church will be hosting one such Ifthar meal next week in an act of interfaith outreach, and are inviting the community to attend for some Turkish fare, and a chance to learn a thing or two about the religion in the process.
“It seems like a wonderful opportunity to get to know folks from another faith community. And it’s going to be pretty delicious, too. I mean, who doesn’t want to have Turkish food?” says Eleanor Epp-Stobbe, pastor of the Breslau Mennonite Church, with a laugh.
The meal is being prepared by volunteers with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute KW (IDI), which is partnering with the Breslau church and other Christian communities in the Kitchener-Waterloo region to host these Ifthar meals.
The organization has in the past hosted a number of other events, including dinners for Christmas, Shabbat and Ramadan, with the aim of building community connections.
“Regardless of the location of the event, we simply share our meal with those belonging to various faiths, cultures and backgrounds,” explained Ali Ihsan Okan, president of the IDI-KW.
“We simply try to reach a point where both parties leave the event with an increased understanding of each other,” he said. “Getting to know about your neighbors, being aware of them, being respectful of each other’s lifestyle, tradition and religion. Demolishing the potential walls among different communities and replacing them with bridges so that we can coexist peacefully, and go to help and support when others are in need.”
The meal, which by necessity must begin after sunset around 8:30 p.m., is preceded by presentations on Ramadan and the Islamic faith.
“As IDI, we don’t seek to teach people,” says Okan. “Instead, we let them know why Ramadan is special and holy for us, what we do [during] Ramadan and why we fast, hoping that they’ll have an increased understanding of what their neighbours are up to.”
The meal is expected to see local Muslims attend, giving those that participate an opportunity to meet and engage with other faith groups in the community.
“It’s going to be very informative,” said Epp-Stobbe. “We’re going to learn a little bit more about Ramadan, and about the Ifthar meal. Someone from the Intercultural Institute will share a little bit of information with the group that gathers, so it’s an opportunity to learn. To befriend and to learn, and that’s a great thing all the time.”
The light-heartedness of the interfaith event comes amid a backdrop of tense religious relationships, in Canada and across the globe. Recent events, such as the bombings of churches in Sri Lanka and the mass shooting in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, have only underscored the need to bridge the divide between communities.
“I think in our world these days, when there’s increasing violence in Churches and Mosques and Synagogues and Temples here and around the world, we need to continue to build positive relationships,” said Epp-Stobbe.
Building positive relationships, learning new things about other faiths and enjoying a delicious meal will all be possible at the Breslau Mennonite Church on Tuesday, May 14. The event is open to the community to attend, and starts at 8 p.m., with dinner following shortly after at 8:30.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to know one another, to get to know our neighbours. Whether you’re Muslims getting to know Christians, Christians getting to know Muslims,” says Epp-Stobbe.
“We’re going to be learning a little bit, and we’re going to be hopefully growing and nurturing friendships and relationships. So it’s a wonderful opportunity.”