Open Iftar brings Londoners together
London - When the Eid moon is spotted over London, the Open Iftar in one leafy street will close, having welcomed hundreds of people of all faiths.
The Open Iftar at Malet Street Gardens in the heart of London is the flagship programme of the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP), a community-led initiative dedicated to building bridges between people.
Established three years ago as a student idea at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, it has expanded to six cities across the world, including Istanbul, Portland, Toronto and Ndola in Zambia.
Two other British cities also have Open Iftars but Malet Street Gardens is the only one to determinedly feed the homeless and the general public the whole month of Ramadan. The others run for shorter periods. It is part of RTP’s goal to cater to people in need and promote cross-community cohesion between Muslims and other faiths.
At Malet Street Gardens, Muslims come together to break their fast each day. Other activities such as “raising awareness about Islam, connecting neighbours and ensuring charitable endeavours continue” are also facilitated, according to RTP’s mission statement.
“Iftar is a very integral part of Ramadan — coming together and breaking fast — so I thought, apart from going to coffee shops with friends or family’s houses, there was nothing like this in the city,” said Omar Salha, who founded the project.
“I thought there is a need to join people together during the holy month. My inspiration came from Turkey, in Istanbul, where they have an abundance of tents. The imagery of it and the idea of such a scene in London really drove me.”
Ruqaiya Hassan, a student, said she’s something of a veteran of the event. “This is my third year visiting the tent and I really enjoy the community atmosphere of RTP,” she said. “Praying in congregation with everyone in the outdoors reminds you of the reasons behind fasting and instils the Ramadan spirit even more.”
RTP works to promote interfaith dialogue, inviting other faith leaders to address the gathering in speeches called Tent Talks.
RTP head of communications Ahmed Ghoneim recalled meeting a man who “looked worn out, lacking hope due to his misfortune that had led him to homelessness”. He became a regular at the Open Iftar and, by the end of Ramadan 2014, the man said his life had been turned around.
“He gave the closing speech of the iftar a day before the Eid, proudly wearing a volunteer’s T-shirt and standing with us as someone whose journey, heart and smile will forever be respected and never forgotten,” Ghoneim said.
In a sign that the Open Iftar is an idea that is easily transported to different locations, Manchester and Plymouth hosted them this year, along with a clutch of cities in different parts of the world.
Ghoneim said that RTP wants a presence in all big British cities even as it works to grow “as a budding global initiative” that remains relevant after Ramadan ends.