Saturday, May 18, 2024

Mosque and local grocer foster interfaith connection in Ajax

Last week, over 200 diverse residents across the GTA gathered in Ajax for an inspiring, interfaith iftar event, hosted by the Sayyidah Zainab Muslim Community Centre in collaboration with Food Basics. This marked the first time in the history of ISCC affiliate masjids that a major Canadian corporation sponsored an entire iftar program.

While Islam is the second most popular religion in Ajax and Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the country, there are still many local Ontario communities where a child is one of a handful of Muslims in their school or where an employee is the only one praying in their place of work. Unfortunately, this means celebrations like Ramadan can feel isolating when the holy month is actually meant to be a time of bringing people together.

“The idea of an interfaith iftar is to reflect and reconnect with the wider community and to remind ourselves that faith is not an isolated task but instead something which inspires – and is inspired – by the community,” explains Shayan Khurshid, volunteer events manager at the Sayyidah Zainab Muslim Community Centre. “Interfaith iftars allow all individuals – irrespective of their religious affiliation – to come together and promote humanity, making the world a better place for everyone to live.”

On the evening of April 4th – both onsite and virtually via livestream – multi-faith guests of every age gathered to hear from Muslim community leaders, like Shayan, gaining the knowledge to not only understand, but also to better support and share in the traditions of their Muslim neighbours. The night kicked off with Arabic and English readings of the Quran, followed by a speech from the masjid’s Calgary-based chairman and an open-floor Q&A discussion. The chairman: Syed Soharwardy aka ‘the walking imam,’ completed a multi-faith, cross-country walk against violence in 2008 and continues to be at the forefront of the conversation on interfaith connection in Canada over a decade later.

“There is a lot of misinformation about my faith, about my prophet,” shared Syed at last week’s event. “We live in a country where the majority of people are non-Muslim…Whether we are Muslim or non-Muslim, we share our humanity.”

Following his inspiring speech, guests enjoyed a traditional iftar from a local, Muslim-owned caterer, and Muslim participants conducted nightly prayers while non-Muslim participants respectfully observed. The night concluded with further mingling amongst the community, and Ramadan colouring and crafts kept children engaged in the unique celebration. Multi-faith guests went home with full hearts and stomachs, as well as gifted Qurans from the mosque and delicious Ramadan flyer goodies from Food Basics.

While a one-night, community-based iftar, both the Sayyidah Zainab Muslim Community Centre and Food Basics hope the purpose of the April event can have a ripple effect both within Ajax and beyond. The two are encouraging non-Muslim Canadians to share the cultures and flavours of the holy month with the following tips:

  1. Do your research and share your learnings with others. The below guide – created in consultation with the Sayyidah Zainab Muslim Community Centre – is a helpful starting point to familiarize non-Muslims with the holy month, leveraging context directly from the Muslim community.

  2. Attend interfaith Ramadan and Eid celebrations – or collaborate with a local mosque to create them. According to Zahid Rafique, volunteer president at the Sayyidah Zainab Muslim Community Centre, interfaith events are crucial to starting important conversations about living in peaceful, multicultural communities. By creating harmony amongst people of different faiths or no faith, he notes gaps can be bridged and harmful misunderstandings and myths can be dispelled.

  3. Engage with and amplify Muslim voices during Ramadan and Eid (and beyond!) Whether it’s connecting with your Muslim neighbours or diversifying your social media by following Muslim influencers and experts, there is always more that multi-faith Canadians can be doing to seek better education and understanding of Islam.

Share this article with someone who could benefit from these learnings. Eid Mubarak!

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