Smile Politely

5th Annual Muslim American Society Ramadan Iftar

Community is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as the people with common interests living in a particular area. Community or a sense of community is exactly what I felt when attending the 5th Annual Muslim Americans Society’s (MAS) Ramadan Iftar Dinner. The aim of this was to celebrate the breaking of the fast that takes place during Ramadan. An alternate and more crucial aim was to celebrate why Ramadan had brought clarity and peace to those in MAS who celebrate it.

The Iftar was organized by the youth of MAS which I can only say impressed me immensely. I love the fact that they took the time to work together to provide their members and the community an event where people from all corners of Champaign-Urbana could get to know one another.
 I went into the Iftar celebration knowing very little about Middle Eastern culture or values. My family had been invited to the dinner by MAS president Dr. Ahmed Taha who is our neighbor.

The majority of the celebration took place in the MAS Banquet Hall where friends, activists, and neighbors all had gathered to celebrate the breaking of the fast. The fast lasts from dawn until sunset during Ramadan so everyone arrived for Iftar at or shortly after 7:45 p.m.

Upon reaching my table with my family more people gathered to sit with us, all of whom I had never met. This began what was undoubtedly the most rewarding part of my experience at Iftar: the dialogue. Talking with those at my table I not only learned about what people did for employment and their families but also what different aspects of Ramadan stand for in Muslim culture. Ramadan, I learned was about taking the month to rid yourself of all desires and compulsions. This essentially allows you, after the month has finished, to not require many of the desires or wants the average person may depend on. Think of Ramadan as a time of personal reflection and cleansing of spirit. Ramadan serves as a road to a healthy life that people work to maintain year round.

A particular liberty given during the dinner is that people who were not of the Muslim faith were free to ask as many questions they wished. No topic was too broad or too specific for the people around my table or the others I listened in on. I like the fact that this section of the community was willing to have this dialogue with people who may believe differently than they do because it showed that everyone at the event had a willingness to learn from each other.

The crucial reason why the conversations were able to occur is that everyone had acceptance and appreciation for one another. In those moments there was no judgment just support for every individual and that is rare. The conversations had by all the tables I suspect made guests learn a little about themselves too which is a powerful thing.
 Before dinner began we were welcomed and then a prayer was said before dinner was served. The dinner featured rice, two kinds of chicken, one of which was red and the other a white cream sauce. Dates were eaten as well as salad and hummus.

After dinner one of the students told a moving yet humorous story about how he came to know what the spirit of Ramadan was all about. I found it particularly moving because he said what he valued and not what he thinks he was supposed to interpret it as in the Qur’an. In the end, this celebration wasn’t about breaking the fast for Ramadan or even spiritual cleansing, it was about a community accepting and supporting one another and valuing the lives everyone has experienced.

I for one am glad I came to Iftar and I can’t wait to attend again next year.

See more photos of the event in the gallery below.

All photos by Sam Logan.

[gallery mas_dinner]

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