Over sherbet and dates, the evening meal or iftar this Ramzan became a tool across India to break barriers and biases. While iftars hosted by political parties are nothing but a photo-op, there were certain iftars, where people from various walks of life and different faiths sat down for a meal, which sent out messages of love, harmony and inclusiveness.
As Ramzan, the month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, draws to a close, we list out at least five such savoury iftars that made everyone sit up and take notice, and take pride in the idea of India.
Yashpal Saxena’s iftar
Over four months after his only son, 23-year-old photographer Ankit, was stabbed by his Muslim girlfriend’s family, Yahspal Saxena hosted an iftar inviting people from all faiths.
Yashpal, who has refused to communalise his son’s murder and harbour any ill-will or vengeance against Muslims in the face of the personal tragedy, had told The Indian Express: “There’s no big message that I am seeking to send out. It’s just that people, especially youngsters, are too angry these days. Perhaps Ankit’s murder was a fallout of that same anger. I want peace.” He added: “I just want to ensure that Ankit’s legacy is one of love, not hatred.”
Neighbours, activists and common people had turned up at Yashpal’s iftar held in the narrow lanes of west Delhi suburb Raghubir Nagar.
Inter-faith queer iftar
There could not have been a more positive note of inclusiveness than an inter-faith queer iftar party. Put together hurriedly, around 30-35 people were in attendance for want of a larger space but despite a bad storm in Delhi on the day.
Rafiul Alom Rahman, founder of The Queer Muslim Project, a social initiative that organised the iftar for the first time, said: “June is the pride month across the world, and, interestingly, Ramzan is also this month, marking a very important intersection for queer Muslims struggling with their sexual identity as well as their faith. Queers who are practising Muslims always have to negate one identity for the other. We really needed to assert and positively affirm that queers and Muslims are not in contradiction.”
Besides, Rafiul said, given the current climate of violence and mistrust between communities, we as queer Muslims felt the need to tell that we also stand for communal harmony, inclusion and peace. The iftar, which was open to all, helped break stereotypes that queers of other faiths had about Muslim queers, added the activist, who works with LGBTQs and Muslims.
A practice that started last Ramzan with a Facebook post by author Nazia Erum was carried on with greater gusto this time. Across Delhi-National Capital Region, women opened their houses to people of all faiths who had never attended an iftar earlier and shared food with them. Non-Muslims in these gatherings were made to write in a chit about the stereotypes about Muslims that they grew up with. And the same were dispelled over food and a lot of laughter.
Significantly, the hosts of these iftars were not only Muslims but those from other faiths as well. And the practice has been replicated in a number of other cities as well.
Kaanchan Bugga, who co-hosted one such inter-faith iftar in Noida, said: “It was a beautiful, heart-warming occasion where we had all invited friends and acquaintances who had never before attended an Iftar during Ramzan. The idea was to open hearts and minds (and homes) to each other and break bread, rozas and myths.”
The key takeaway from the initative, Bugga, said is that “it’s us ordinary ‘Grihobaashis’ who have the power to change our world.”
Shia and Sunni Muslims came together at a rooftop hotel in Old Delhi for a joint iftar even as there is a difference in the time when each sect breaks their fast. The gathering was prompted by a purported fatwa issued by the Darul Uloom Deoband banning Sunni Muslims from sharing meals with Shias.
Historian Rana Safvi told The Indian Express: “We should all be united at times like these, irrespective of our sects and faiths..”
That evening, Sunnis broke fast at the stipulated time of 7.18, while Shias broke it 8 minutes later. The event also saw Shias and Sunni pray together and even women joining them. There were also a handful of people from other faiths in attendance.
Lucknow temple iftaar
In a first, the 1000-year-old Mankameshwar Temple in Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, which is famous for its arti on the ghats of Gomti river, hosted 500 rozedars or fasting Muslims to an iftar. Significantly, the Muslims, which also included clerics from both Shia and Sunni sects, offered namaz at the ‘aarti sthal’ of the Shiv temple.
People attending the iftar said it was a sight to behold when saffron-clad pandits wholeheartedly welcomed skull cap-wearing Muslims and served them water and food.
“We should celebrate every festival with great zeal.” “By helping the ones on fast, people will earn ‘punya’. Everybody should also take part in it irrespective of their caste,” said Mahant Divy Giri of the temple.