Yesterday evening, I went to The Ramadan Tent, situated in the grounds of The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Set up by Omar Salha, a SOAS alumnus, this Ramadan Tent welcomes Muslims to break their fast for Ramadan by serving iftar, the sunset meal.
News of the Ramadan Tent has travelled fast. One of my good friends learnt about it through her flatmate and now both volunteer there, helping in the iftar preparation and disposal, and ensuring that everyone feels welcome, and is accommodated with food and a place to sit.
Muslim or not, it does not matter. Committed volunteers have made this special iftar possible and welcome the public during Islam’s holy month, regardless of religious, socio-economic or political background making it truly an event that brings old and new faces together.
It truly was a special feast. Sustained by charitable donations, it was so inspiring to see so much food being provided for so many. As we sat on the ground around long mats acting as tables, it felt like a large family picnic was about to start. There was a sense of community, a sense of belonging and a feeling of togetherness. The homeless sitting amongst students and members of the public, no prejudice or judgment was placed. Each person was treated as part of an extended family.
Before the call to prayer and breaking the fast, a speaker is invited to speak. Yesterday, Omar had invited Jehangir Malik OBE, director of Islamic Relief UK to talk. Malik reiterated how wonderful it was for so many people from across London to come together in the spirit of Ramadan. In a recent Huffington post article, Omar mentioned how not only did he hope this Ramadan campaign would challenge some misconceptions about Islam but also bring communities together.
Similarly, Jehangir Malik also feels that ‘Ramadan Is a Time to Break Down Barriers, Not Build Them Up’.’ Having just completed a trip to Syria, his words had a lasting impact on me and I could tell on others too. Here we were sitting down, surrounded by a family we’d only just acquired, being provided with food and water whilst there were so many across the world struggling for just one of these basic privileges.
Dates were passed around to eat and symbolized the beginning of iftar. A change in the wind during the call to prayer made for a magical atmosphere. Despite not being Muslim myself, it was as if the summer breeze whispering around us had somehow cast an invisible spell, connecting everyone there. It did not matter what religion you were, where you had come from or what your economic situation was.
As people, we were all the same; we all hoped and prayed for a world that we could feel proud to live in, we all desired an end to the suffering of those less fortunate and we all wanted to leave our positive mark in some way or another. It was an overwhelming and inspiring moment.
My friend told me how, on one occasion, due to the increased popularity and interest in The Ramadan Tent, there had not been enough food to accommodate all guests as well as committee volunteers. In this instance, volunteers refrained from eating to ensure every single other participant had food in front of them. Bearing in mind, the majority of these volunteers had been fasting themselves, it was moving to hear the extent of their charitable duties.
I have an immense sense of respect for those that are fasting during Ramadan. It requires dedication, commitment and perseverance -it is only when one is tested that one realises their true potential.
Many are all too aware of how the media can misconstrue or demonise Islam and as a result alienate communities. This event however, as Omar hoped it would, disputes Islamic misconceptions and teaches non-muslims about the core values of Islam. There were times during yesterday’s iftar that I could not say a word. There was a spell I did not want to break. I felt proud and privileged to have experienced such sharing, generosity and sense of community. I left feeling happy that this was such a positive opportunity for others to appreciate the true spirit of Ramadan.
Ramadan Mubarak to all those participating!
Love, respect and blessings,
Ana at The Asian Destination xo
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