0813 Ramandan Iftar
Attendees of the outreach program continue their discussion over iftar.
Peter Horn, 80-year-old retired assistant rector of Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, describes iftar as an “out-of-this-world, delicious dinner.”
An evening meal consumed after fasting from sunrise to sunset, iftar commonly takes places during Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting in Islam that according to this year’s calendar ends in early August.
Every year since 2001, Horn has visited the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center year-round for religious outreach programs with one or two church groups.
The Center encourages the community to fellowship with local Muslims during these programs.
Horn learned about the outreach program after he attended a seminar about Islam at the Homewood mosque shortly after 9/11.
Although these outreach programs are held throughout the year, individuals and groups visiting the mosque during Ramadan stand out.
It is then that guests can experience an unparalleled evening of sharing iftar and conversing with local Muslims in events organized by the Birmingham Islamic Society (BIS), an organization representing the Hoover, Homewood and the Fairfield mosques.
Visitors can request the topic of discussion, which in the past has covered democracy in Islam, human rights in Islam, Jesus in Islam and more.
One of the challenges the BIS faces is encouraging people to ask questions that might be offensive. But the program seeks to answer the community’s questions and debunk mysteries about Islam.
“Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam [peace be upon him] said that ‘in order to increase love with each other, eat with each other,’” said Ashfaq Taufique, the primary outreach program facilitator. “And even in the Christian tradition breaking bread together spreads love.”
According to Taufique, an imam (religious leader) at the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center, Ramadan gives the whole community, including Muslims, a better opportunity to engage with each other because Muslims are at the mosque every night to pray and eat during this month.
Horn said the program has been an eye-opener for him and others, allowed them to empathize with the Muslim community and increased positivity towards the Muslim religion.
During Ramadan, visitors are also allowed to observe the early evening prayer (Magrib), which precedes a discussion and presentation about Islam.
Observing Muslims pray usually sparks discussion right away, according to Taufique.
“It is a highly needed activity for Muslims to do because we do not have the machinery of the media on our hands [or] the ultimate resources,” Taufique said. “We can just light one candle at a time.”
Since 1997, Taufique has collaborated with Farook Chandiwala, the founder of the BIS outreach program, to open its doors to anyone willing to learn, share and connect with the local Muslim community through educational dialogues.
Over the years, various groups have attended the programs, including FBI members, schools, churches and the Birmingham Museum of Fine Art.
Taufique said that the relationship between the Muslim community and the larger Birmingham community is improving every year because of this program.
“My faith in humanity has renewed every year,” Taufique said.
More about Ramadan
Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed and the month in which healthy and able Muslims are obligated to fast from sunrise to sunset for a 29 or 30-day duration.
Ramadan is a way of glorifying and thanking God for the blessings and guidance received through the Quran. However, the dates of Ramadan change every year because it follows the lunar calendar.
Ramadan program details
Dates left for scheduling a visit during the Ramadan outreach program are July 24-Aug. 7. Programs begin at 6:30 p.m. To reserve a visiting date, contact Rita Taufique at 879-4247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more, visit bisweb.org.