Despite having grown up with a Muslim stepfather in Manchester in the 1970s and early 1980s I had never been to a Muslim community event, let alone one that played a part in the fast during Ramadan.
Back then the fact that I was growing up in a culturally mixed household was more of an oddity than a cause for celebration. Racism was rife in all forms and the ‘difference’ that my home represented was a challenge as a kid growing up.
So, when I received the invitation from Cam Harmony to join the Muslim community of Cambourne for a Community Iftaar, I was both excited and intrigued… and quickly googling what an Iftaar was?!
What I found was a joyous and inclusive event where I was welcomed warmly and felt completely at my ease…in fact I felt like I had in a way come home…the clothes, greeting phrases and of course the home-made Biryanis!
The address from Dr. Timothy Winter aka Shaykh Abdal Hakeem Murad about the New Cambridge Mosque was interesting and I will certainly take a look next time I am down Mill Road, but what I found more pertinent was the discussion on the meaning and experience of fasting during Ramadan.
I had never really considered that it is something many cultures have engaged in for millennia.
For example, Christians have the month of lent and I am familiar with images of the fasting Buddha.
The role of fasting in religion is concerned with sacrifice and cleansing, but in a modern world where (if you have the money) every kind of food and drink is within reach all the time it can also play a part in redefining one’s relationship to food and what constitutes nourishment, need and fulfilment.
At the Iftaar all these elements were present and there was a real air of anticipation as the time to break the 18 hours long Fast (Iftaar) approached.
I had not fasted, but I felt the energy in the room change and the communal experience was a very heartening thing to be part of. The initial prayer happened very subtly and allowed for quiet personal reflection…then the look on faces as they bit into a dried date was a simple yet meaningful act.
It placed nature’s bounty, nourishment (both physical and spiritual) at the centre of everyone’s thoughts and it was a real honour to be part of it.
In an event such as the Iftaar it allows a community to join together and provide for one another…what a generous act and one that helps to cement community bonds.
It was a joyful, open and inclusive event. A good model for Cambourne as we grow together over the coming years.
Now I look forward to the Eid Fair on June 17….and hopefully more Biryanis!!
Gavin Clayton is a Councillor with the South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC).