Muslims, Christians and Jewish women together for interfaith iftar
United we stand, divided we fall. That’s the way to bring peace in the world, one day at a time, one community at a time, one person at a time.
On June 25, 2015 the women of our Quran study group at the East Valley Islamic Center in Chandler AZ hosted an interfaith iftar, breaking of the fast during our holy month of Ramadan, for our Christian and Jewish sisters. Perhaps 100 women of all faiths shared a delicious meal, lively conversation and prayers in a show of unity that took several weeks to plan. In addition to organizing a food and desert menu, we women worked on an information program to cover as much as possible in the short time we were allotted. We wanted the event to be special and special it was. The iftar opened with a reading from the Quran followed by a brief explanation of Ramadan. Three Muslim sisters including me shared our experiences during Ramadan with an audience hungry not only for food but for knowledge. Christian and Jewish women came to learn more about Islam and to make new friends. Event organizers posted sisters at the mosque’s entry to greet our guests and to make them feel at home in Allah’s house. Other volunteers served halal food and made sure adequate seating was available. Guests were invited to join us Muslims for Magrib prayer (the fourth of five daily prayers). At each table there was a mix of Muslims, Christians and Jews so women could talk and learn about each other’s faith. All in all, the event, a first for our Quran group, was a success and another step forward towards promoting unity, opening dialogue and fostering friendships. Smiling guests posed for pictures. We hope the tradition of interfaith cooperation in the Phoenix area continues.
During last year’s Ramadan (the holiest Muslim holiday) I joined Diba, my dear friend and her family and friends for evening Iftar’s (breaking the fast) at an Islamic center in Chandler. Islam was slowly luring me closer. I cherished my evenings sharing home-cooked food, conversation and prayers with my sisters, some of whom I met for the first time. We laughed, hugged and traded bits of our lives. Children played under watchful adult eyes. After meals, we took turns cleaning up. At the end of July Ramadan was over. There would be no more evenings at the Islamic Center. I didn’t want it to end. I loved the camaraderie among Muslim women. No one was a stranger. Everyone including me was welcomed. I miss my sisters. I hope they missed me too.
Ramadan, the month long holiday, begins next week. Fasting from sunup to sundown is required for all able bodied Muslims. Of course there are exceptions for children, nursing mothers, the sick, etc. Fasting serves as a reminder of the suffering poor and oppressed, people who never have enough food. Sadly, hunger strikes people all around the world including right here in the USA. As a new convert, it’ll be my first Ramadan. Similar to last year, I look forward to evening iftars at the Chandler mosque, a chance to spend time with my sisters in peace and prayer. I cherish the camaraderie among us.
Since I left my comfort zone and delved into the Muslim world, I’ve been warmly welcomed. I converted in February. Strangers invited me into their homes, cooked scrumptious me meals, and invited me to family gatherings. I’ve laughed with women I hardly know. I cried at funerals for the loss of loved ones. At the mosque, I’ve prayed with others for peace and healing. Shame on the media for ignoring the kind, compassionate and caring side of Islam that I see every day. I listen to sermons at the mosque every Friday about treating your neighbor with respect and dignity. There are over 1 billion Muslims around the world who are Arabic, Persian, Asian, African and Western converts. Yes, there are some Muslims who strayed from the Prophet’s original teachings and commit grievous, merciless wrongs. They should be held accountable and atone for their crimes. To paraphrase the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. judge us by the content of our character not by what’s on our heads, the color of our skin, or the tone of our accents. We are human beings just like everyone else. There is good and bad among us all.
For years I was curious about Islam but too timid to attend a Friday prayer service. An interfaith service at the Tempe mosque on 9/11/2011 to commemorate that horrific day in a peaceful manner with friends and neighbors opened the door for me. I received my first Quran. I inched forward, meeting Muslims some of whom adopted me into their families. If anyone wishes to join me at an iftar or Friday prayer service, just ask. I’ll be happy to serve as your host.
A large gathering outside a Phoenix mosque on Friday May 29th was allegedly to show off our right to free speech. That’s what the organizer, Jon Ritzenheimer, wanted the public to believe but his true motives were far more nefarious. A motley collection of armed motorcycle riders, neo Nazis and skinheads, about 200 in all, spit out ugly anti Islamic rants at whoever would listen. Some flashed obscene gestures. From their looks, it appeared a few needed a good shave, a bath and a change of clothing as well as a lesson in manners. Ritzenheimer, an avowed atheist and former US Marine, captured local, national and world-wide attention for his disgusting display of bigotry towards Muslims, many of whom are American citizens just like him. Born in the USA. None caused him a shred of harm. A few served in the armed forces just like him. Ritzenheimer and his small minded men who had the appeal of fly paper were let down because the angry mob they expected to cheer them on never materialized. Instead, the bitter boys were met by the peace patrol, a large contingent of counter protesters bearing signs denouncing violence and hatred. Mostly Christians from area churches who were fed up with divisiveness rallied together to support their Muslim neighbors. A wall of heavily armed police separated the two sides but there was no violence. None. Testy verbal exchanges now and then but nothing more. After a staggering waste of taxpayer dollars to provide law, order and protection, the evening was over. For Ritzenheimer, it was a bust. But for the rest of Phoenix, it was a beginning. The nastiness of the marchers inspired Azra Hussain, president and founder of the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau of Arizona, to organize an interfaith celebration of peace and prayer for the following week dubbed Love is Stronger than Hate. On Monday June 1st, perhaps 1,000 people of all religions including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others poured into the same Phoenix mosque to show unity, friendship and compassion. At least 22 local groups supported Love is Stronger than Hate. On Friday demonstrators were encouraged to bring guns and most did. On Monday guests were asked to bring flowers as a sign of peace. Nearly everyone complied. Speaker after speaker encouraged the huge crowds to spread kindness and compassion. Messages of respect and dignity were met with raucous cheers. There was so much joy in the room that some attendees were in tears. Hugs and handshakes abounded. I’m so glad that I shared this special event with my friend Saba and her family. To everyone who attended I thank you for your courage, bravery and human decency. May Allah continue to bless our community with grace and dignity. I am proud of Phoenix and how we turned hate into joy.