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Does inviting non-Muslims to Ramadan celebrations promote interfaith dialogue in Australia?

The annual iftar dinner hosted by Sydney Giants aims to bring the Western Sydney community together during Ramadan. Source: Getty Images

There is a growing trend amongst Muslims in Australia to invite non-Muslims to Ramadan celebrations. Researchers support this idea as they believe it promotes interfaith dialogue and social cohesion but also say a lot more needs to be done.

Observed by more than one billion Muslims globally, the month of Ramadan is regarded as a time for attaining spiritual growth. It is also considered a month of unification and connection amongst the Muslim community as they fast from dawn to dusk, and often join each other in breaking that fast.

But there’s now a growing trend amongst Muslims in Australia to invite people from other communities to experience Ramadan rituals like iftar (meal at dusk for breaking the fast) and suhoor (pre-dawn meal before the fast).

Inclusion in Ramadan
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull hosted an iftar dinner at Kirribilli House in 2016 in which guests like broadcaster Waleed Aly and his wife author Susan Carland were invited.
FAIRFAX MEDIA POOL


Highlights:

  • Non-Muslims are increasingly being invited for iftar and suhoor meals during Ramadan
  • Islamic scholars and researchers believe this enhances intercultural interaction
  • First generation Muslim migrants may be hestitant to invite non-Muslims home for fear of misunderstanding, say SBS Urdu talk-back callers

Sydney-based Muslim scholar and imam Nazir-ul-Hassan Thanvi stressed the need for the inclusion of other Australians in Ramadan activities.

Ramadan can provide opportunities to share ideas, views and interact with the wider Australian community

Imam Thanvi added that the inclusion of other Australians on the occasions like iftar could provide opportunities to bridge the gap between the Muslim and the wider community.

Dr Dzavid Haveric is an adjunct research fellow, historian and author at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University. He agreed on the need for greater social interaction between Muslims and non-Muslim in Australian.

But he emphasised that both sides need to show a renewed mutual interest in such interaction.

“Sharing iftar with non-Muslims Australians is also an opportunity for enhancing interfaith dialogue and intercultural interaction,” added Dr Haveric.

Some members of Australia’s Muslim community members believe that while some multicultural organisations and interfaith societies organise iftar dinners every year, however, the number of families inviting non-Muslims during Ramadan is very low.

Diversity during Ramadan
Members of the Muslim community offer Eid-ul-Fitr prayers at Lakemba Mosque, Sydney in 2019.
AAP

Raza Ali, an audience from Adelaide told SBS Urdu that this may be due to a hesitation prevalent amongst some members of the Muslim community for extending personal iftar invitations to non-Muslims.

SBS Urdu did a radio talk-back to gauge public sentiment on this subject. Many callers welcomed the idea of extending iftar invitations to their neighbors and other non-Muslim families.

Jahan Ara, a talk-back caller of the SBS Urdu radio program suggested having an Open Day at mosques during Ramadan and Eid.

But another talk-back caller, Ilahi Buksh of Melbourne, disagreed. He thought that may disturb worshipers inside mosques.

Prof Karima Laachir is the director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at Australian National University. She says that Muslim communities in Australia are very diverse and one cannot put them all into one basket.

She told SBS Urdu that the hesitation amongst the community to create family relationships with non-Muslims in Australia could be coming from first-generation migrants who might feel that their faith may not be well understood by others.

The current generation of Australian Muslims feels more comfortable about sharing their faith and practices because it is part and parcel of their identity as Australian Muslims

“I think there is a lot that has been done by individuals and it is always good to do more and include non-Muslims in iftars, to allow all communities to share the spirit of togetherness of Ramadan,” Prof Laachir concluded.

Ryan Epondulan is Youth & Networking Coordinator of Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations. He says that Ramadan is a great opportunity to enhance interfaith dialogue. In sharing our religious customs, traditions, and events, people experience moments of joy and happiness. "It is not hard to engage in interfaith dialogue", he added. 

My own experiences of attending iftar dinners whether it be at schools, in halls, or at homes, is a great opportunity to share a part of who we are and learn from each other

Ryan Epondulan told SBS Urdu that a strong barrier that he has noticed between Muslims and the wider community is fear. He elaborated on this notion like fear of engaging the other, a fear of what other people will think of me, a fear of who the other person may be and do. "This can be exacerbated when one is constantly bombarded by misguided stories, whether it be from our family, friends, or media sources, he added. Ryan agrees that Australians of different faith traditions need to extend the invite, reach out to their local communities so that we can engage with one another and have a deeper understanding of each other, their beliefs, and values.

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