Interfaith Iftar

By: Cassandra Lawrence

August 21, 2015

On July 7 I got to see just how difficult it is to fast. It probably wasn’t a great idea to make cookies in the middle of the afternoon either. Yet, there I was making 4 dozen cookies for the first interfaith iftar I had ever helped organize.  
What is an iftar? An iftar is the meal at the end of the day during the month of Ramadan. It is frequently accompanied by lots of delicious food, many many gatherings at mosques, community centers, and at the homes of family and friends. The time of fasting is meant to help a person focus on God and cleansing themselves of the distractions and barriers to living an honorable life. In Christianity there are similar times, Lent and days for fasting, though none as long or as widely observed as Ramadan.

The cookies, fasting, and the iftar started with a chance encounter with my co-organizer Lauren Schreiber at the National Zoo three months earlier. We had met briefly at a Washington, DC young leaders conference in February but hardly knew each other. Applications were due the next day for an international interfaith conference in Kosovo, and we decided then and there, next to the small mammals house, to both apply.

We were both accepted, so on May 27 we sat next to each other on a Turkish Airlines flight to Kosovo, the newest country in Europe. While there it was amazing to meet activists from around the world, working every day to build stronger communities.

While in Kosovo, a biker demonstration outside of a mosque in Arizona was organized and almost immediately the counter narrative was organized. Lauren had stayed up all night following the Twitter storm, so at breakfast she told me about the Seven7Fast of Christians fasting in solidarity with Muslims to raise money for local food banks. A woman, Jessey Eagan, from Indiana was organizing an interfaith event on 7/7—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.

Somewhere on the flight home we started talking about our great community of interfaith activists at home and how we could reconnect with more of them. I recalled the sharing of a small date with friends, in community to break the fast. We loved how in Kosovo, between all the panel discussions we would casually gather around tea and coffee, over farm fresh strawberries and fresh cheese, connecting with people from all over the world. Trying to figure out what exactly to call the cheese and, oh yes, how to better work across and amongst faith lines. In Washington, DC, Lauren and I realized, we rarely get a chance to gather in a casual environment, eat together, and connect with each other. So we quickly hatched a plan to hold our own Seven7Fast.

I am deeply invested in how we create space; the scent and flavors of food are an integral part of creating a loving safe space for meaningful and even playful conversations. Breaking bread together is an integral part of Christianity. Not only is the practice embodied in the communion, it is part of so many important stories and moments throughout the Hebrew Bible and in Jesus’ ministry. Personally I find great joy in feeding people wholesome nutritious food, sharing and honoring all the hands that grew and harvested the food, through to the hands cooking and serving the food. So the idea of a shared meal together with friends after a day of fasting was a natural fit for my faith practice.

I am so grateful to Potters House for accepting our invitation to host the event and for preparing a delicious vegetarian meal so we could all eat together. I am grateful for the support of the Berkley Center and CAIR providing funding for the meal, and to the generous individuals who gave everything from $10 to $150 for food. Of the 45 individuals present at the iftar, representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Atheism, Secular Humanism, and others, we were additionally able to raise over $200 for DC Central Kitchen, an organization whose mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. 

Both Lauren and I are already hatching our next interfaith events. We are creating new opportunities to play, create, and share interfaith spaces in Washington, DC for young adults. Finding and lifting up other existing spaces is also part of our plans. There are already so many opportunities in DC; we are excited to explore many of them.

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Interfaith Iftar