Fasting and Feasting

Fasting and Feasting

A blog by Alison Jones

At the start of Ramadan, a couple of Muslim friends said they would like to invite me round to break their fast with them at an Iftar meal.

I thought about it and said I would love to join their families –but that on the days I went to friends for Iftar I would also fast from early morning (2.30.am) to the time of the Iftar meal.

Over the last 3 weeks I have fasted on Mondays and Wednesdays, Setting my alarm for 2.30and eating a banana and having a long glass of water. Then I would wait until I broke my fast with my friends, later that evening

In this time, I have also spent time with 5 close women friends-British born Muslims and their children. During the time that I spent with them over Ramadan they brought dishes to share and talked about the choices they had made to wear their Niqabs. We discussed why I had chosen to fast and what I had learnt about Ramadan and fasting, how to resist temptation and how I had become aware of others encouraging me in my journey that day.

Iftar number one

My host for this first Iftar is married to an Imam. Her daughter is in year 6 at the school where I work as a community cohesion coordinator. Unknown to me she had told her entire class that I was fasting and going to spend Iftar with her family! As the day went on, random children would come up to me and ask if it was true I was fasting and then ask how it was going! Over the Iftar meal I asked this student why she had told her friends I was fasting and she said, “because you want to understand us Muslims and we respect you.”

Iftar number two

My second Iftar was with a large family of 7 children. The oldest and youngest in the family have learning disabilities. The other children helped prepare the meal, ensured their siblings with disabilities enjoyed the family time around the table and all talked openly about their faith. A programme was on the TV about giving during Ramadan and I shared about the Christian tradition of Tithing –something they were fascinated to learn about.

Iftar number three

Meal 3 was with a close friend. I went with another friend of mine and we sat and talked with our host about what our experiences of faith had been at different times in our lives. I spoke of working in Belfast in the 70’s with Protestant and Catholic young people. Our lovely host spoke of the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims and how news reflects the negative rather than positive stories about Muslims. She also spoke about how she had to think hard about how to  bring her children up to be strong in their faith but understanding of others perspectives.

Iftar number four

We said an Islamic Grace at home number 4 and talked about how I, as a child, said grace at every meal. The father in the family was astonished that Christians would pray as a family. He said he has never met a white English person who went to church, despite having lived in the UK for 20 years.

Iftar number five

This time I went to the home of a Moroccan/Czech family and talked about why the husband had converted to Islam and how he found being an Eastern European Muslim worshiping in a predominately Bengali mosque. The family have received a notice that they are being evicted by their private landlord. They have no idea where they will live but we talked about how prayer had helped them cope with uncertainties and how I had had answered prayers.

Iftar number six

My Somali friends shared about how their faith had kept them strong during two years as refugees in refugee camps. Having five sons, (who all share a room in their two bed 18th floor flat) and knowing I had 4 sons, we talked about how to share faith with our children and how to encourage our children to show respect for people of other faiths.

Iftar number seven

My final Iftar was with neighbours. We had invited our Muslim neighbour to come to us for Iftar. Our friend was astonished to be invited to a Christian’s home for an Iftar. Throughout the meal we talked about our lives, our children, and our faiths. Around the table was a Ghanaian, a Scotsman, a Spaniard, and Malawi Indian! At the end of the meal our neighbour trusted us to share her recent diagnosis of cancer and to ask for our prayers.

So what have I learnt through my week of Iftars?

  • I have wondered why I don’t encourage other Christians in their spiritual journeys in the same way my Muslim friends have encouraged one another during Ramadan.
  • I have felt part of a group of people who are on a faith journey
    • One friend texted me “thank you for wanting to learn more about our faith and practice” another texted me “how are you feeling – be strong – pray your faith will help you cope with the heat” I am really happy you have influenced your neighbours and got them to invite your Muslim neighbour we are so often misjudged and these meals give us time to talk about faith and community”
  • I have learnt to resist temptation – on the day it was 35c in London I was so tempted to get an ice-cream – instead I sat in a park and thought more about those without any food.
  • I have enjoyed celebrating meals together with friends and want to invite more of my Muslim friends to mine to talk about Christmas and Easter. I have learnt not to be ashamed or hesitant about my faith but to be open and honest and in sharing with others.
  • I have thought more about fasting as a spiritual exercises and am investigating the Greek orthodox tradition of twice week fasting.

Would I do it again?

Definitely! Already looking forward to next year! 

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 23 July 2015

@nearneighbours