It was a regular Monday morning at work when my phone beeped. It was Seema Rao, my friend who had messaged to invite me for an Interfaith Iftar gathering organized over the weekend, of which she was the co-host. An Interfaith Iftar, I thought, sounds interesting. On asking for details, I got to know that this get-together was specifically for those who had never been to an Iftar before. Counting myself as one, I readily agreed to be a part of it.
Having lived across the major metros of India, I’ve been to the Ramzan hotspots of those cities during Iftar to soak in the spirit of the holy month. But I had never been to someone’s home for the same. Further, I was too hesitant to ask my Muslim friends for an invitation since I perceived Iftar to be a very personal event for the family which gets together to break its day-long fast, but boy was I proven wrong!
So, on that humid Sunday evening, I reached the home of the gracious hosts Ali and Niharika Shervani who had, figuratively and literally, opened the doors of their house for the invited guests. It was an elaborate effort by Ali’s family and the co-hosts who adorned the place for the evening. They left no stone unturned in making the guests comfortable. The house was abuzz with activity with guests intermingling among themselves and with the hosts.
During these interactions, I got to know that organizing an interfaith Iftar was the brainchild of Nazia Erum, an entrepreneur, author and a TEDx speaker, also one of the co-hosts for the evening. Nazia conceived this idea with an intention to change the mindsets and break stereotypes about Muslims in today’s politically charged environment. It certainly is the need of the hour against the backdrop of the increasing polarization creeping in the society. This was the second in a series of such interfaith Iftars held this Ramzan.
The first one was held in Noida after Nazia’s Facebook post asking if there was anyone who had never been to an Iftar before, garnered a wide response. Nazia, then with the support of other women comprising of Hana Mohsin Khan, who’s a pilot, Seema Rao, a lawyer, Gunjan, TV producer, Shehla, a chef, Rukhsar Saleem, a blogger, among others, organized an Iftar party targeting the first-timers. Needless to say, the support was overwhelming. Hence a second one was held wherein the men pitched in with their support as well. Junaid Maqbool Bhat, a doctor, lawyers Anas Tanwir Siddiqi and Shakaib Saleem, among others, played a significant role in helping with this party.
As the time of breaking the fast neared, Rana Safvi, a noted historian and author, enlightened the guests on the reason and significance of fasting, the importance of purity of thoughts during the duration of the fast, and the humanistic concept of charity, i.e. Zakat. Also contrary to my perceived notion that Iftars are supposed to be personal, family events, I was surprised to know that, even traditionally, Iftars haven’t been restricted to one’s family and faith, and an important aspect of them were community get-togethers, like the one I was a part of.
The clock struck 7:22 p.m., and it was the time to break the fast. As done traditionally, the guests were offered date palms and water. A little later, an elaborate spread was laid out with all the hosts putting out the food they had cooked and brought from their respective homes. It was evident that they had put in a lot of effort in preparation of the traditional Ramzan dishes. The guests devoured the food, and one could hear compliments galore.
Soon it was time to offer Namaz. Misconceptions and stereotypes were broken were broken again in this process. It was a mix of gender and sect. Men and women, Shias and Sunnis, all got together in unison to offer prayers to the Almighty. This departure from the preconceived notion of segregation of genders and sects during the prayers was an eye opener.
It was a congregation of a diverse set of people who came from various walks of life: doctors, lawyers, authors, entrepreneurs were all there. By the end of the evening, strangers became friends and everyone went home with some takeaways, and some myths busted. If I have to sum up my experience in one word, it would be ‘enlightening’. There is a need for such interfaith gatherings in the society today. These are places where people get to mingle, and in the process learn about each other and clear misunderstandings about communities and faiths different from them. Hope this initiative continues and the response gets stronger year after year.
That evening was also when Indian played Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy final in London. Tensions soared as it always does. There was the usual religious jingoism. India lost. Back in Delhi, though, it was bonhomie between religious communities. Hearts were won.