By NADEEM BADSHAH
IT IS A warm summer evening and hundreds of people of all races and religions are sitting on the ground to break their fast with burger and chips to mark Ramadan.
They are not in the grounds of a mosque or someone’s house, but in a large tent where guests of any background are invited.
The award-winning Ramadan Tent Project’s (RTP) Open Iftar, which has been held in central London and Manchester during the holy month, has led to a growing number of non-Muslims going without food or drink until around 9 pm.
Turkish kebabs, rice and pasta are some items cooked each night for people to tuck into while they listen to a guest speaker. An imam, a Christian pastor and Jewish rabbi have all addressed the gathering.
Between 300 and 450 people have attended such events, including those of other faiths wanting to try fasting for up to 19 hours with their Muslim friends and work colleagues.
Omar Salha, founder and director of the RTP (Ramadan Tent Project), told Eastern Eye: “Through the act of sharing a meal we can bring people together.
“I have come across Muslims who are regulars at Open Iftar bringing friends and they end up fasting and breaking the fast together.
“They come back and bring more friends and colleagues. They share the experience out of solidarity, fasting 19 hours a day.
“It can be quite humbling. They say to me “We found it difficult, how on earth do you manage to do it for 30 days?”
Since the first RTP Open Iftar in London in 2013, similar projects have been held in Istanbul, Toronto, Portland in the US and Zambia.
Salha, a PHD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, said one of the aims of the scheme is to foster a community spirit.
“Our slogan is ‘discover the community spirit’. Everyone is welcome irrespective of their culture, backgrounds, beliefs.
“It provides more impetus to do the work in the current climate, we see how the faith is portrayed in the wrong light. Muslims engaging the community and our neighbours, what Ramadan and Islam means.
“We’re bringing people together. We all have preconceived ideas, but as soon as you have a conversation with someone, those ideas are thrown out of the window.”
The trend of people from other religions fasting has spread to offices around the country.
Dami Idowu, 28, decided to fast for Ramadan to see what her Muslim friends were experiencing.
The finance worker from London told Eastern Eye: “I really admired the reasons given for fasting.
“The most difficult part for me was not being able to have water, and the lack of energy I had towards the end of the day.
“It made it a bit harder to concentrate. My fasting friends offered a lot of encouragement, they checked I was doing okay throughout.
“Overall, I felt really humbled by the experience. It really forced me to reflect on the things I have and should be grateful for and think more about those in needs.”
Dami’s friend Saheena Ahmed, 27, said: “I was impressed when Dami expressed her interest in Ramadan.
“It was encouraging and motivating to be among friends and colleagues who were fasting.
“We arranged iftar [evening meal] together at a restaurant so that gave us something to look forward to.”