Hundreds of people made history by gathering on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall for an iftar celebration where many broke their fasts in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
On Wednesday (13 April), around 500 Muslims and non-Muslims came together at the event organized by the charity Ramadan Tent Project (RTP), who host Open Iftar.
Open Iftar is a UK-wide project in which people of all faiths and none come together for free daily iftar’s – the name of the evening meal Muslims break their fast with – to connect with each other and learn more about the Islamic faith.
Hundreds arrived at the iconic venue in which a meal of dates, water and biryani (a south Asian rice dish) was served in one of many events hosted by RTP.
Founder and chief executive of the charity, Omar Salha, said that since starting the initiative almost ten years ago, Open Iftar have connected over 350,000 people and served over 150,000 meals.
On the project’s beginnings, he told The Independent: “I wanted to create a space of belonging and inclusion for Muslims in the UK during Ramadan.
“In most Muslim-majority countries, people come together in century-long, cultural traditions of breaking bread and sharing meals in bazaars, souks and pop-up tents, so, we wanted to bring that tradition to London and the UK for people to share in culture and traditions.”
Mr Salha said the values and intentions of the project have remained the same – to be welcoming to people of all faiths who want to learn more about Ramadan, fasting and Islam.
“While we’ve grown to more spaces and bigger events,” he said, “our key goals are still to turn strangers into friends, soften hearts and minds and put smiles on people’s faces.”
Two attendees, consultant Sara Taleghani and junior doctor Maryam Al-Mahtot, met at an Open Iftar event and attend to break fast with others and be apart of a wider community during Ramadan.
Ms Al-Mahtot said: “As both of us are living away from home, it’s a perfect way to feel like you have a sense of community during such a holy time. A lot of our acts of worship are congregational so having an event like this is really important to both of us to be able to come together and partake.”
Amina Sellik, a volunteer at Open Iftar, is from France and feels the event has also helped her in building a sense of community whilst being away from home. On her experience of her, she said: “I love the spirit between volunteers and attendees are always so happy to be here.
“I love that non-Muslim people can come and ask questions about Ramadan as nowadays, the image of Islam is not the best,” she continued, “I see this as a French person, especially – so I enjoy being able to share our culture and teach others about the spiritual element of the month. I find it so beautiful to be able to understand and learn from people and share my culture and religion with others.”
Monty Alexander – a musician and co-founder of tech start-up Yokeru – said the event sparked his interest while walking past so he wanted to share in the experience. He said: “I’m not Muslim, but some of my close friends are and I like the idea of big groups of people sharing in something positive.
On what he learned during the event, he said: “I’ve always felt that it’s a welcoming religion and I’ve spent time with my Muslim friends during Ramadan before, so today I affirmed my beliefs on how welcoming spaces like this can be. ”
On the importance of events like this for people who aren’t Muslim, Mr Alexander said: “It demystifies what religion is to people who don’t know – ultimately, its about connection and community and if you partake in that, you’ll understand that it’s a positive thing overall.”
Attendee Ms Taleghani shared a similar sentiment. She said: “It’s important for people to meet Muslims as in Britain, we still live in quite Islamophobic times where there is a lot of hostility towards Muslims. So it’s a nice, comfortable space for people to sit down with us, get to know us and learn more about Ramadan and Islam.”
Mr Salha, RTP’s founder, shared more on his hope for the project’s near future. He said: “The guests who attend bring a beautiful, community spirit and we hope to continue facilitating that year after year. Tonight, for example, we’re creating history in this location so we want to expand to more spaces and cities.”
“This year,” he continued, “we have a LaunchGood fundraising goal of £50,000 we want to reach which will cover all of the meals served during Open Iftar and for every meal covered, our charity partners at Islamic Relief will ensure a donation to feed someone abroad for the whole month.”
Ramadan Tent Project are holding Open Iftar events throughout the entire month of Ramadan (until 30th April) at iconic locations such as Wembley Stadium, the British Library and Trafalgar Square with free tickets available online.