A recent poll said that only 33 per cent of Hindus have a Muslim as a close friend. This leaves a very high chance that for 67 per cent of Hindus, their only perception of Islam and Muslims is the representation on the media, which is not usually the most flattering. Nazia Erum, author of the forthcoming book, 'Mothering A Muslim', decided that this had to change. She put a post on Facebook asking how many people hadn't been to an iftaar, and within the next week organised and hosted an inter-faith iftaar party for almost 70 people, many of whom she had never met before. Erum reached out to some of her friends for help and also received help from people whom she hasn't met before – someone offered their house to host the party, others offered money for ingredients and chairs and many brought in the food. There have been three such iftaar get togethers in Delhi NCR this month.
The idea behind the iftaar was not just to have a get together but also to break the streotypes surrounding Muslims. Before opening the fast they spoke about the reason behind the Ramzan fasts and also explained the difference between Ramzan and Ramadan as many did not know Ramzan is the Persian word and Ramadan is the Arabic word for the month, both meaning the same thing. Many non-Muslims who participated the event were initially hesitant as they have never been part of a Muslim religious event in the past.
After ending the fast, there was a joing namaaz (salah in Arabic) with men, women from the different factions of Islam, such as the Shia and Sunni preforming the prayer together. While the prayer was going on, someone explained the meaning of the words and their significance for the non-Muslims present.
Men, women from the different factions of Islam preforming the prayer together (Others)
The other streotype they wanted to break was that of Muslim women being subjugated and submissive. The women, both with and without veils, represented a variety of professions from being stay-at-home mums to pilots, authors and journalists, and with differing interests and hobbies right from scuba diving and biking to poets and travellers.
People usually come together for open house feasts. (Others)
The inter-faith iftaar has been quite popular and people around the country are holding their own open house feasts. These have been held in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Guwhati and others are planned in Pune and Bhopal.
In a country like India that has a plethora of religions, castes, languages and even vastly different geographies and food, it is easy to think of everyone as 'the other'. This was not always the way, as historian and author Rana Safvi remembers it, during her childhood all religous holidays – Eid, Diwali, Christmas etc were celebrated with the same fervour and a sense of togetherness. Food and appreciation for cultural differences will always bring people together but if we keep the doors shut, there will be no opportunities for conversations. After all, we have more that unites us than what makes us different.