Friday, July 20 marks the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in the lunar Islamic calendar and a time marked for many by fasting from dawn till dusk. Practitioners break their fast right after sunset, at a dinner called iftar.
In Toronto, Muslims and non-Muslims of diverse genders, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, classes, colours and dis/abilities will have the opportunity to share food and company at a unique iftar at the 519 Church St Community Centre. This year marks the 10th year for the dinner, which was originally hosted by Salaam: Queer Muslim Community.
Salaam founder and activist El-Farouk Khaki describes the iftar as a space for building bridges. “This event is really about knowing your neighbour and breaking bread together,” Khaki says. The use of large, cafeteria-style tables at the dinner, he says, puts even those who come with groups of friends in a position where they’re encouraged to “interact and interface with others.”
Since Salaam’s first iftar, the list of sponsors has grown to include a number of organizations that serve Muslims but are not Muslim-identified. That list includes the Toronto Unity Mosque, HUMAN +, Egale Canada, the Iranian Queer Organization, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Africans in Partnership against AIDS, Asian Community Health Services and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands. Such collaboration among Muslims and non-Muslims, Khaki says, makes the iftar one of only a few of its kind.
Khaki says the dinners, which have seen attendance nearly double since 2003 to around 240 expected this year, have helped “open up Muslim communities to the larger community, and open up the larger community to Muslims.” At the same time, the events have helped bring about conversations within Muslim communities.
“Over the years, we have had increasing numbers of straight Muslims coming to the iftar,” Khaki says. “In the first few years, it was largely LGBTI Muslims and non-Muslims. Over the years, more and more non-LGBTI-identified Muslims are coming.
“This is a good thing, because not only do Muslims and non-Muslims get to break bread and know each other, but different kinds of Muslims get to meet as well, and this hopefully leads to an increased acceptance in the Muslim community of LGBTI people.”
Doors at The 519 open at 7:30pm. A program, including performances by Troy Jackson will begin at 7:45pm, with the call to prayer after sunset at 8:53pm. Toronto activist Lali Mohamed will lead Maghrib prayers. Participants are encouraged but not required to fast from dusk till dawn on Friday and are welcome to bring a non-alcoholic beverage or desert to share.