Hoya Paxa

Faith, Friends, and Fasting: An Interfaith Iftar in DC

I remember how helpless I felt when I first heard about the armed protesters planning to rally against Islam outside of the Arizona mosque. It was 1 a.m. and I was awake, still struggling with jet lag in my hotel room in Pristina. With the six hour time difference, people back in the states had taken to Twitter with the hashtag #NotMyAmerica as they waited to see what would happen as the right-wing Christian biker gang posted photos with flags and guns and the RSVPs for their protest climbed into the hundreds on Facebook. I stayed awake for hours, alone, watching as things unfolded.

Ironically, I was spending the weekend at the International Interfaith Conference in Kosovo, surrounded by some of the most amazing young interfaith activists from across the globe who were all thrilled about working together. It was there that I really had a chance to meet Cassandra Lawrence—we had briefly crossed paths at the annual DC Interfaith Leadership Summit—but didn’t really connect until we randomly ran into each other the day before applications were due for the Kosovo trip. She encouraged me to apply, and we both ended up boarding the same plane and spending a long weekend together overseas talking about interfaith stuff and all the awesome things we had in common. We were instant kindred spirits.

On our last day there, I stumbled across one tweet that stopped me in my tracks. A woman, Jessey Eagan, from Indiana was organizing an interfaith event on July 7—during Ramadan—in which she was encouraging people of other faiths to fast in solidarity with the Muslim community and to donate the money they would have spent on food to charity. Something so small made me feel so connected—even though I was thousands of miles away and floating in what felt like such a surreal cross-section of global citizens who were committed to putting their beliefs into action. THIS is what interfaith should look like back at home, I remember feeling.

While sharing my feelings about Arizona and how touched I was about the concept of the Se7enFast response, it became apparent that while in Kosovo, I had made a new friend who embodied that type of support I was longing for. Cassandra was excited about making a DC Interfaith Iftar actually happen, and we immediately began planning. From there, everything quickly fell into place: The Potter’s House in Washington, DC was willing to partner with us on the space and even offered to stay open an extra hour to accommodate us; we were also fortunate to have both the Berkley Center and Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsor the cost of the meal, along with several other individuals who made contributions to offset our food expenses. After making the event page live, I was so surprised by the amount of positive response we got. After two weeks of open registration, we had filled all of the slots and were quickly building a waitlist that would be impossible to accommodate.

On July 7, 45 young people—a hodgepodge of Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Secular Humanists, and others—gathered at the Potter’s House to breakfast together and share a vegan meal and some good conversation. Collectively, we raised over $200 for the DC Central Kitchen. Before the program began, I took a moment to stop and pause and really see what was happening. There, sitting on the floor on picnic blankets, were complete strangers who appeared to be so different—buzzing with energy and conversation—before the ice breaking, without any intervention. Watching as they organically exchanged contact information and shared jokes and stories, I realized that that unique interfaith space I found in Kosovo wasn’t really all that unique. There are amazing young people right here in our own city who are anxious to learn more about each other and share in doing good. And that all it really took to build the type of interfaith community I was longing for was a nudge from a friend and a call to our networks to come together in a shared space. The rest was easy.

 
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