EVERY Ramadan, a group of volunteers in London organise an open iftar, or buka puasa, which it claims is the first ever global community-led public campaign to unite people from different backgrounds and faiths through food. It is called the Ramadan Tent Project.
The Ramadan Tent Project is one of many such initiatives by Muslims all around the world, to better showcase Islam to non-Muslims. I attended one breaking of fast event one Ramadan at the School of Oriental and African Studies some years ago, and was delighted to find that people from all kinds of backgrounds joined us, not only to break the fast, but also engage in discussions that helped in some ways to dispel feelings of prejudice, suspicion and discrimination. The homeless mingled with students and curious passers-by. Even a rabbi made his presence felt.
Events like these are important in the wake of the many tragedies and incidents that had earned the Muslim community frontpage headlines, often for the wrong reasons.
Islamophobia, sad to say, has been on the rise here, and there have been distressing reports of attacks on members of the Muslim community since several attacks by people who claimed to have carried out the attacks in the name of Allah. Anti-Muslim hate crime rose by 40 per cent in London alone.
Last year, during Ramadan, a man set off on a mission to kill as many Muslims as possible. He drove his van into a crowd of worshippers who had just finished their tarawih prayers in a mosque in Finsbury Park in North London. A man died.
A few days ago, to mark a year since the tragedy, representatives from all faiths in the community gathered at an iftar near the spot where the group of worshippers were mowed down. It again reminded us that a lot more needs to be done to bring the community together, to send out the message that Islam is not about violence and tit for tat is not the answer.
This incident outside Finsbury Mosque came after the attack on Westminster Bridge on pedestrians and a policeman on duty at the gates of the Parliament.
Every time a tragedy of this nature happens, we see groups of Muslims try to explain that Islam is a religion of peace and the majority do not condone these acts of terrorism.
In the wake of such worrying developments, many Muslims have gone out of their way to reach out to people and show that they are more than what the nightly news says they are. And for many, the best way is through food.
Last week, some friends of mine once again gathered at their usual spot along The Strand, not too far away from Trafalgar Square, to cook for the homeless. Sharizah Hashim, who runs Dapur in London, and her group of volunteers do this act of charity once a month, while at the same time, members of a Muslim group make themselves available for any questions that the public wishes to ask about Islam.
Recently, in a similar act of charity, members of Mercy Malaysia United Kingdom (MMUK) coordinated seven deliveries of food to victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, who are still being housed in a hotel in west London. According to MMUK trustee Haliza Hashim, who coordinated the donation, the food was either passed to a local mosque or delivered personally to the victims.
“It is hard for the victims to cook, as they are living in a hotel. And it was nice for them to break their fast with a hot meal,” said the TV3 journalist, who added that “they really like Malaysian food!”
The charity drive was also in collaboration with Perwakilan London, the association of wives of Malaysian diplomats and expats living in and around London.
It is heartwarming to hear charity drives like this happening not just here in the UK, but also further across the ocean.
A group of women from Malaysia and Singapore who had made their homes in Canada and who call themselves geng makcik-makcik biskut, had been doing these very acts of charity as a way of serving and giving back to the community which had adopted them.
Their potluck-styled events see the homeless, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, enjoying their Malaysian and Singaporean food in churches and mosques in and around Toronto.
Rahidah Ramli, who founded the project, said the acts of charity were done to instill in their children the spirit of giving, while also taking the opportunity to show real Muslims, as opposed to the image of Muslims often portrayed in the media.
“The Muslim community from Malaysia and Singapore, who are living quite a distance from each other in different cities such as Brampton, Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Kitchener and Brantford, organise these activities in the hope that it will bring us closer together.
“When serving the non-Muslim community, we took the opportunity to show we are good Muslims and introduce who we are — the Malay Muslims from Malaysia and Singapore,” said Rahidah, who migrated with her family from Singapore 17 years ago.
So far, they have cooked and fed the homeless in Hamilton and downtown Toronto, distributed hygiene packs and served snacks and Sunday Suppers at Sydenham United Church during winter, and even helped refugees resettle.
As active committee members of their local mosque, Rahidah and her family also volunteer from the Malay community to run these events. They also enlist the help of Malaysian and Singaporean students from the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton.
It is most heartwarming to hear stories like these. It need not be in the form of hefty cheques but little meaningful and sincere efforts like feeding, as well as integrating in the society that we live in, that really help.