Welcome to My Table: Interfaith Iftars in a Pandemic
As faith communities grappled internally with how to meaningfully observe holy days while physically distancing, we also wrestled with the question of if and how to run an interfaith Ramadan campaign this year. This time last year, our team at Shoulder to Shoulder concluded our first-ever Ramadan Road Trip where we visited iftars (fast-breaking meal during the month of Ramadan) in 5 cities in the American Southeast. It was a fun week filled with diverse multifaith community gatherings, meaningful conversations, and delicious food. We spent the week immersed in the in-person relational work that has been so core to interfaith engagement.
This year, during a global pandemic, we decided that instead of migrating large interfaith Iftars online, we would instead pair households to one another through our ‘Welcome to My Table’ Initiative. We matched over 50 households from across the country, and Canada, including Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular, and interfaith families. People spanning from their 20s to their 90s who joined as individuals, families, couples, and roommates.
We’ve received numerous beautiful stories about their encounters. Households shared meals (some attempting to cook/eat the same dishes from a distance!), navigated language and tech barriers, and found space to share about some common challenges in a pandemic. Here is a sampling of what we’ve heard:
Linden and Ahmed, a couple from Wisconsin, met up virtually with Erin and Abdel, a couple living in D.C. Both are Catholic-Muslim interfaith couples, and Linden reflected that “The time flew and by the end, I realized we forgot to talk about Ramadan! From what I understand about the Iftars during Ramadan, it is just what we experienced, gathering with those we care about to share a meal and conversation, appreciate the presence of others, and of course the food! I am in a way grateful that we had to do the experience virtually because we were able to meet people in DC (we are in Wisconsin). I’ve been trying to see the silver lining in everything in this pandemic and this was definitely a blessing.” Linden shared “it was so great to meet another couple ‘just like us’.”
Shannon’s Family (in Maryland), Kevin’s Family (in Pennsylvania), and Sakil’s Family (in Vermont) met up via Zoom on a Friday. They all attempted to cook Biryani, following Sakil’s lead, “so there was even solidarity in our food.”
Shannon went on to reflect that, “We started our meeting just before the time to break the fast, and each of our children even participated in the call, curious about where we all live and what we like to do (with 2-year old Afnan actively waving his lollipop in agreement)…we joked a bit about “hybrid holidays” where different faith traditions come together to create something a little new (like decorating a house for Ramadan, which is a more Western idea). The experience was warm, engaging, and one of the highlights of my Ramadan so far. We all hope to stay in touch and extended offers to visit or meet up when the pandemic is over.”
Sabeeha and Khalid, who live in NYC, joined a virtual meal with Mandy and Kelly, Lutheran (ELCA) pastors in rural Minnesota.
Mandy: “We live in a small rural town in Minnesota, with a population of 1,000. The nearest house is a mile away.”
Sabeeha: “We live in a city with a population of 8 million and the nearest resident is across the hall.”
Mandy and Kelly have worked in their congregations to dispel myths about Islam and Muslims and to encourage them to engage with people of other faiths. Sabeeha, after reflecting on their conversation said meeting the couple, “Restores one’s belief in angels.” (Read more of Sabeeha’s reflections here.)
It’s tempting in these times to hole up, and to engage only with people inside one’s own home or close circle, so to speak. But we risk losing out on the benefits that come from widening our circles with intentional relationships between people of different faith and cultural backgrounds.
In times like these, the relationships we build allow us to come alongside one another more quickly and effectively, whether with a care package, a delicious new recipe, a creative community solution, or a gesture of solidarity. Our communities are stronger and more resilient when people from diverse cultures, religions, and races are engaged to see each other more clearly and know each other more deeply. Our communities are stronger when we see what we’ve done well and where we need to do better. And now, thanks to technology, we can start with a meal and a simple phrase, “Welcome to My Table”.