‘The Big Iftar:’ Ramadan community events take Britain by storm

What started as a small-scale project has generated a growing interest with more than 100 public iftars already being planned

Nabila Pathan
Nabila Pathan - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Undeterred by 19-hour long fasts this year, British Muslims are organizing community iftars all across the country, hosting both Muslims and non-Muslims in a bid to share the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan.

The Big Iftar, a popular UK-wide initiative, is back in action this year. Launched in 2012, it has provided a platform for iftars to take place in homes, community centers, synagogues, parks, town squares, schools and more.

What started as a small-scale project has generated a growing interest with more than 100 public iftars already being planned across the country.

National Coordinator for The Big Iftar Julie Siddiqi spoke to Al Arabiya English to express her excitement at the scheme's yearly growth: "It has been fantastic to see how The Big Iftar has grown again this year. We are having an Iftar in a Cathedral for the first time and synagogues have been opening their doors too. Ramadan really has become known by so many more people now in the UK, which is great to see, and Muslims are realizing the benefit of opening up to people around them, not just Muslims.”

One of its most prominent events held this Ramadan was the Big Royal Iftar at the West London Synagogue, coinciding with celebrations of the British Queen's 90ths birthday celebrations.

The Ramadan Tent Project, now in its sixth year, will continue its tradition of Open iftars taking place every evening at Malet Street Gardens, in London. Beginning at sunset, food is shared and speakers invited so that guests can engage in thought-provoking discussions with people of different faiths and cultures.

Their Open iftars, where free food and beverages are provided to participants to break fast, have greatly expanded since their 2011 inception and aim to share the spirit of Ramadan with the London community. The Ramadan Tent Project is award-winning and has generated widespread media coverage due to its growing popularity, having been featured on various news outlets, including BuzzFeed and the BBC.

“We are delighted to host the attendees of Open iftars this year and we hope to showcase more of the Islamic world’s diversity, and provide a platform for Muslims to express what Ramadan truly is about: family, charity and compassion,” stated Omar Salha, the founder of the initiative in a press statement.

This year Ramadan Tent Project’s Open iftars will operate in London, Manchester, and Plymouth.

The tradition of breaking fast amongst friends, neighbors and the needy has been part of the Islamic tradition for centuries. These community iftars will make use of the month to help facilitate bridge-building between communities, fostering interfaith dialogue, the essence of which was echoed at the start of Ramadan by the newly elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

In a message to mark the beginning of the holy month, Khan said that Ramadan is a "great opportunity to unite our diverse communities and faith groups at charitable events and iftars across the city."

Writing in The Guardian, he also added: "The best way for people to understand each other's faiths is to share experiences. Fasting is a good way to do this because, when you're breaking bread with someone, inviting non-Muslims to have that Iftar meal together, it shows that it's not a big deal, nor is it spooky or weird."

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