Young people build bonds over their love of faith and tradition at interfaith Iftar dinner. Photo courtesy of Vivian Kwok

Interfaith Ramadan dinner builds bonds

By  Robert Adragna, Youth Speak News
  • July 7, 2016

TORONTO – During Ramadan, Muslims across the globe share the Iftar meal each evening. Iftar allows Muslims to physically replenish the body’s energy after fasting from dawn until dusk and to mentally reflect on the beauty and sacrifice of their faith.

This year, this combination of sustenance and contemplation was opened to Torontonians of all faiths as part of the Intercultural Ramadan Friendship Dinner series on June 10,  20 and 23. 

Over 150 individuals from several religious traditions celebrated Iftar together at the June 23 dinner, opening and informing each other’s perspectives about faith in the comfort of a lavish meal. The event also featured educational components, such as addresses from leaders of various faith traditions, which focused on the dinner’s common theme of “Passing on the Faith to the Next Generation.”

“Ramadan is the month of blessing, a time to renew friendships and renew relationships with people that we ordinarily do not see in our day to day lives,” said Ammar Baig, a Muslim student who attended the event. “I was proud as a Muslim to share our hospitality with all these people.” 

The dinner was organized by the Faith of Life Network with support from the GTA Intercultural Dialogue Institute. 

Co-founded by a Muslim Imam and Catholic priest in 2005, Faith of Life aims to promote outreach, dialogue and bridge-building among various faith traditions. Its work is informed by a core central tenet, the common value of every individual’s humanity and personal spirituality as a living being. 

“Our call is the call to life,” said Imam Hamid Slimi, the organization’s co-founder. “And when you look at everything from laws to rituals it’s all about a celebration of everything that gives life.”

Participants of the dinner were invited to join Muslims in evening prayer at a local mosque. This was an eye-opening experience for attendees, as many had never even been inside a prayer room before. 

“Instead of focusing on the differences, and counting how many differences we have with other faiths we try to see how many common things we have with other faiths,” said Imam Slimi. “This sends a message into the community that ‘wow, these people have a lot to share with us.’ ”

“When you dialogue you have to be able to enter a space where you feel safe and respected and listened to,” said Vivian Kwok, administrative assistant of the Archdiocese’s Office of Interfaith Affairs. “It’s hard to do that without basic friendship.”

Especially in today’s world, Kwok said it is essential that events like the dinner continue to remind us of our collective human friendship. Xenophobia and racism still exist in our culture and propagate harmful stereotypes, such as those surrounding Islam and terrorism, which negatively affect millions of innocent individuals. Worse, these sentiments are being inflamed due to current political events in the US and UK. 

Baig asserts the best way to correct these divisive perceptions is through concrete examples of kindness and respect.  

“We need to respond to the misunderstood and misused version of Islam in the media,” he said. “The only way to correct misunderstanding is to prove that it’s wrong through your own actions. Our actions have to represent our religion the right way.”

As Catholics, Kwok said we must also work to combat misconceptions of hate by being part of the interfaith dialogue. Only then can we fully realize our vision of the Kingdom of God. 

“Even though we may have different beliefs and believe in different gods,” said Kwok. “Ultimately we are all just working toward becoming good people in our society.”

(Adragna, 18, is a Grade 12 graduate from Bishop Allen Academy in Toronto.)

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