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The day we broke fast with a Muslim family

During Ramadan, Paulina French and her family were invited to share a meal in a Muslim family’s home as they broke their daily fast. The experience has brought her to see far more similarities than differences between peoples.

Ramadan, one of the holiest months for the Muslim community has drawn to an end. During this time, Muslims throughout the world fast from food, drink and sexual activity between dawn and sunset. They are also encouraged to pray more and to take on other abstemious practices.

At sunset the fast is broken with a meal, known as Iftar, where there is a focus on making food generously available to the community.

As a parent, I try to expose my children to as many experiences as possible. I believe this will help them grow as human beings. While sending them to a good school is important, education is about experiences as well.

We were privileged enough to attend an Iftar meal, hosted by a family with whom we had been put in contact through the Turquoise Harmony Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

I was nervous and not sure what to expect. We were made to feel so welcome by the entire family from the moment we arrived. We felt as if we were old friends reconnecting after a long period apart. As is the custom in their home, our shoes were left at the front door. That simple act immediately made us feel a part of their family

The meal started with a prayer. In a very welcoming and inclusive way, the hosts invited us to join them, as we prayed to God and expressed our gratitude for the food and the company we were sharing. The meal was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of my childhood and how sharing a meal around the table was always an important event.

As we ate we chatted about Islam, focusing on the similarities between Christianity and the Muslim faith. Differences were not mentioned and we shared much in common. Our hosts are immigrants from Turkey and, as my parents were immigrants too, we had similar stories to tell.

I never once felt judged or afraid to share my beliefs and was encouraged to share my experiences and my thoughts. It took courage for our hosts to have us in their home and to share a very important time and part of their faith with us. It took courage, also, for us to walk into a home full of strangers, making ourselves vulnerable. It led me to the realisation that this is what our country is in dire need of.

I can’t help but think of Pope Francis when he visited the almost-exclusively Muslim Morocco in March 2019.

At the official welcome ceremony, held in his honour at the Esplanade of the Hassan Mosque in Rabat, the Pope is reported to have said: “If we wish to share in the building of a society that is open, fraternal and respectful of differences, it is vital to foster the culture of dialogue and adhere to it unfailingly, to adopt mutual cooperation as our code of conduct and reciprocal under¬standing as our method and standard.”

Our country is in need of dialogue between people of different races and different religions. Through dialogue, we will come to realise that our differences can be used to build mutual respect and acceptance of one other.

Every day I hear white people mentioning that they have “many black friends”, but interestingly enough not many of them have ever hosted these “many black friends” in their homes. The same goes for the many Christians who will mention that they have “many Muslim” or “many Jewish” friends, yet have never shared a meal or religious celebration with these.

Religious differences are not a new phenomenon. Our world’s history is filled with religious tensions between people, that have often resulted in wars. Thousands of innocent people, including children, have lost their lives in the name of religion.

As a country and as a society, we ought to practise tolerance of one other’s religious beliefs. We should not marginalise people of any religion, including those who have none. Dialogue helps us find solutions to address serious challenges like homelessness, poverty and unemployment.

Religion is a man-made classification of people and we must remember that — in reality — we are all human beings, with individual needs and aspirations, irrespective of beliefs, cultures, races.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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