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Breaking The Ramadan Fast In The Company Of Jews

Muslim-Jewish iftars are popping up across the nation, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of people for a celebratory Ramadan meal and a chance to forge interfaith friendships.

07/11/14
Photo Galleria: 
David Mattis, a Jew, embraces Sumaya Abubaker, a Muslim. RNS
David Mattis, a Jew, embraces Sumaya Abubaker, a Muslim. RNS

This Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims exchange rocket fire in Israel and Gaza, those attending these meals say they are all the more significant, as a way of demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company.

In Los Angeles on Thursday (July 10), an iftar that bills itself as the single largest gathering of Muslims and Jews in the city, is sponsored by NewGround, an organization that works year-round on Muslim-Jewish relations. The group exists to build resilient relationships that both groups can draw upon in particularly difficult times, said Rabbi Sarah Bassin, NewGround’s former executive director.

“Yes, we are in another awful flare-up of violence and both of our communities are suffering,” Bassin said. “That will be acknowledged at the iftar.”

At next week’s “Iftar in the Synagogue” at Chicago Sinai Congregation, “we will try to figure out how we can deal with the tragedy overseas and move forward,” said Husna Ghani, management consultant at the Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Chicago. “That’s the whole point.”

“There will probably be a lot of prayer,” she added.

Nearly 900 Muslims and Jews attended the Chicago event in 2012.

Ramadan, which began on June 29 this year, is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, a time when Muslims focus intently on prayer, but also self-examination and charity. Muslims believe that God first revealed verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan. Fasting during the month begins at sunrise each day and lasts until sunset. Iftars — the meals eaten after sunset during Ramadan — feature special dishes and desserts — particular to the countries where the world’s 1 billion Muslims live — and can last until the wee hours.

It’s customary for Muslims to invite extended family and friends to share the evening meal — sometimes even pulling in people off the street. That invitation to fellowship has become a staple in Muslim-American life. Former President George W. Bush held the first Ramadan iftar at the White House in 2001. Before that, Bill and Hillary Clinton hosted parties marking Eid al-Fitr, the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. President Obama has hosted an iftar each year he’s been in office.

At Muslim-Jewish iftars, particular attention is paid to food. In Los Angeles, the meal will be both halal and kosher, in keeping with both Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, which often overlap. Neither faith community eats pork, for example. Out of respect for Muslim tradition, no alcohol will be served.

Some of these interfaith Iftars will be hosted in mosques or other Muslims institutions — on Sunday (July 13), for example, at the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies in Cary, N.C. Others will take place in synagogues.

NewGround’s iftar at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, for which more than 230 people signed up, is very intentionally held in a synagogue, said Bassin.

“The Jews feel comfortable going to a Jewish institution and the Muslims feel comfortable that they’re going to an iftar,” she said. “It puts everybody equally in and out of their comfort zone.”

“It’s usually a very good mix — almost down the middle — of Muslims and Jews,” said Aziza Hasan, who is Muslim, and the interim executive director of NewGround.

And they’re asked not to sit only with co-religionists. Instead, groups that include both Muslims and Jews, Bassin said, are given icebreaker questions appropriate to the occasion. For example, she said: “What’s your relationship to fasting,” a religious practice of both Muslims and Jews.

“Instead of being stuck in our silos, we’re actually reaching out to each other,” Hasan said.

editor@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

07/14/2014 - 08:37

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We do not do interfaith.
We are peaceful people who have to protect ourselves.
The way to do it is to stay at home and eat kosher.
If people of other faiths want to be peaceful to us they too can do it in their own homes without our help if they are sincere.
The people of other faiths must understand that our Torah does not allow us to eat together woth them or to do interfaith, it is as simple as that.
We do appreciate when people of other faiths show solidarity with us, but we would appreciate it far more if the solidarity they showed to us was under the banner of the Seven Noachide Laws for all the gentile people, and not their 'faiths'.

I think this is well-intentioned - most Jews in the diaspora have always been pretty liberal and social minded.
If this could take place in Israel then that would signify real progress - Israeli jews have moved farther to the right and have many xenophobia problems.
To the above posters - If there was an equitable solution achieved with the palestinians, most of the arab states would open up diplomatic ties to Israel. With the palestinian situation solved, islamic radical militancy and aggression would die out - palestinians just want to work and buy a house and raise their kids too.
Israel has also been dealing with the various arab countries, using back alley channels, for decades - it is only the palestinian situation that prevents full relations. If there was open peace and trade between the Israelis and arabs, the middle east would become a dominant hi-tech and manufacturing region in the world. Israeli intelligence and inventiveness combined with arab/muslim energy and man-power, would rival the asian countries in economic growth and power.
It's time for the children of Abraham to get it together and take charge.

Jews can be so brilliant in science, technology, medicine. Why are they so stupid when it comes to politics? What nonsense is this: "demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company." Oh, sure, let's eat together and then think that the Moslems don't have any sacred doctrines which command them to either kill the Jews or subjugate them to Islamic rule. Eating together will make all those nasty sacred commandments just go away.

before the syncretic drek, there needs to be a cessation of the vitriol

While is it that Jews run to be convenient idiots? I can only set it down to weak ego strength which expresses itself in an all-consuming desire to identity with the "other" even when the "other" would like nothing better than to sever your head. Islam and Jihadism are one and the same. The distinction is camouflage that permits the likes of CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MSA and Jew-hating Imams to insert themselves within "tolerant" societies they hope to bring crashing down.

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