Ra­madan can be a time to build bridges

From my ‘If­tar­be­cue’ to in­ter­faith gath­er­ings, break­ing of the fast of­fers op­por­tu­nity to get to­gether

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION - FARIHA NAQVI-MO­HAMED

Cut­ting up fresh fruit ev­ery evening, rolling spring rolls with my Mom, stuff­ing samosas and set­ting the ta­ble for the break­ing of the fast — those are some of my beau­ti­ful child­hood mem­o­ries of Ra­madan.

The holi­est month of the Is­lamic cal­en­dar be­gan this week. It is a month when ob­ser­vant Mus­lims re­frain from eat­ing and drink­ing from sun­rise to sun­set.

It can be phys­i­cally fa­tigu­ing to fast for nearly 17 hours a day, as is the case for Cana­dian Mus­lims when the hol­i­day falls at this time of year. It is, how­ever, spir­i­tu­ally up­lift­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing.

As a child, I re­mem­ber be­ing wo­ken up be­fore the crack of dawn to the scent of fresh roti be­ing made in the kitchen. We’d sleep­ily wan­der over to the kitchen ta­ble and eat and drink mostly in si­lence, fu­elling our bod­ies for the day.

The days were much shorter then. Fast­ing in the win­ter months mostly just meant not eat­ing or drink­ing while at school. As the lu­nar cal­en­dar moves for­ward by 10 days ev­ery year, the days have got­ten hot­ter and are longer now.

My kids ask to fast, but it’s not nec­es­sary for them to do so, as they’re still young. The same goes for any­one who is pregnant, nurs­ing, trav­el­ling, elderly or sick.

Ev­ery fam­ily cel­e­brates Ra­madan dif­fer­ently, with dif­fer­ent foods, drinks and tra­di­tions. In our home, we love to take ad­van­tage of the warm weather for an If­tar­be­cue (com­bin­ing our break­ing of the fast meal, If­tar, with a bar­be­cue). It’s an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to get to­gether with friends and fam­ily, in­vite over neigh­bours, and all eat to­gether.

It seems that on a more for­mal level, Ra­madan in Mon­treal is also be­ing seen as a fit­ting oc­ca­sion for in­ter­faith di­a­logue ini­tia­tives, which hap­pily appear to be pro­lif­er­at­ing. There are Chris­tian, Jewish and Mus­lim groups par­tic­i­pat­ing in events that bring dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to­gether for break­ing of the fast ac­tiv­i­ties across the city this year.

Ra­madan is an es­sen­tial time for giv­ing char­ity, as well. This can mean mak­ing donations, par­tic­i­pat­ing in food drives, help­ing the home­less. I re­mem­ber vol­un­teer­ing in the kitchen of Sabariah Hussein dur­ing my days at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity.

I didn’t know how to cook very much back then, but I have vivid mem­o­ries of her putting the dozens of vol­un­teers to work. We’d peel pota­toes, chop veg­eta­bles and stir in­dus­tri­al­sized pots and pans while she’d walk around mak­ing sure the hun­dreds of meals she pre­pared ev­ery day were ready for univer­sity stu­dents, the home­less, peo­ple who at­tended soup kitchens at lo­cal churches and any­one else she heard needed a warm meal. It was who she was and how she op­er­ated. It didn’t mat­ter what you looked like, what you be­lieved, where you came from or why you were there, she fed ev­ery­one in­dis­crim­i­nately.

Nearly 15 years later, many things have changed, but the work of Sis­ter Sabria (as she is com­monly known) has re­mained the same. From her apart­ment kitchen, she has served more than 650,000 meals and has raised more than $1.1 mil­lion for hu­man­i­tar­ian causes. The food she makes is in­cred­i­ble, and the love with which it is made is pal­pa­ble.

She has just re­ceived the Or­der of Mon­treal. She is also to be hon­oured Sun­day at an event at St. Ge­orge’s Angli­can Church. As one of the thou­sands of peo­ple who have met and worked with Sis­ter Sabria, I would be hard-pressed to think of any­one more de­serv­ing.

Her pas­sion for feed­ing oth­ers, giv­ing of her­self and build­ing bridges be­tween peo­ple through food have been an in­spi­ra­tion to me my en­tire adult life.

While the tum­mies of Mon­treal’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity may be empty over the next month, our spir­its are fu­elled by celebrating our dif­fer­ences, hon­our­ing one an­other and work­ing with our neigh­bours to build bridges of un­der­stand­ing and ac­cep­tance.

Fariha Naqvi-Mo­hamed is the founder and ed­i­tor in chief of Cana­di­anMomEh.com, a life­style blog. twit­ter.com/cana­di­anmomeh

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