On Wednesday, June 15th, the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland hosted, a “Building Bridges Iftar.” An Iftar is the breaking of the fast at sundown each evening during the month-long holiday of Ramadan. A small group from the Winchester Multicultural Network attended. As the title indicates, the intent of the event was to build bridges across different communities.

Right away, we were warmly welcomed and invited to tour the center. The Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland draws its membership from the Greater Boston area, representing a diverse range of cultures. Our tour guides, themselves students, led us down a corridor lined with classrooms. As they explained, the religious school held at the center serves many children and teens as they learn Arabic in order to read the Quran. Reading the Quran in Arabic is fundamental to the practice of Islam. We visited the beautiful library, filled with resources helpful for both contemplation and completing religious school homework, and peeked into the prayer hall. Guests filled the many tables in the large front room in preparation for the welcome recitation of the Quran. A short film called “Nadia’s Ramadan” was then shown. In the film, Nadia, a young girl, gives viewers a firsthand glimpse into her family’s observance of Ramadan. During the course of the month of Ramadan, which varies from year to year, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. On each night, a section of the Quran is read so that by the end of 30 days, the entire holy book has been completed. We learned that family members wake up before dawn to have a small meal and that, along with attendance at a mosque or Islamic center, families often break the fast at home with friends and family. At the end of the holiday, Eid-ul-Fitr is joyfully celebrated with food, gift-giving, and fun activities for children.
One of the highlights was a fascinating and educational talk on “Muslims in America, Yesterday and Today” by Boston University Professor of Religion, Kecia Ali. Dr. Ali  discussed misconceptions and conflicted attitudes toward Muslims in the context of three recent events: Muhammad Ali’s death, the terrorizing of a Muslim community by a U.S. Army reserve officer in Raeford, North Carolina, and the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida. Muhammad Ali’s death brought to light that a devout Muslim could be broadly revered as an American hero, yet respect for him has not translated to respect for the Muslim community in general. In fact, as she pointed out, Muslims face daily the threats of hate crimes such as the death threats against members of a North Carolina mosque by an army reservist. The attack in Orlando at the Pulse night club by an American lone wolf shooter who pledged allegiance to ISIS, a point the media chose to focus on, only served to reinforce the stereotype of Muslim Arabs as terrorists. Dr. Ali pointed out that all Arabs are not Muslim just as all Caucasians are not Christian. Muslims come from many countries, each with their own culture and way of practicing their faith. Educating the public and having open dialog between non-Muslims and Muslims is essential to increasing understanding and dispelling misconceptions. The horrific shootings in Orlando made this gathering at the Islamic Center of Boston even more meaningful, an occasion not only to learn more from each other but to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in condemning the massacre.

After a call to prayer, we shared in Iftar, sampling the delicious snacks of dates, watermelon, hummus and carrots at our table. Those who wished were invited to observe evening prayers. Afterwards, we feasted on a varied array of foods representative of some of the many regions of the world members come from, such as South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Two Islamic Center members joined our table and, as we ate and talked, we got to know one another.

It was clear that our small group left feeling uplifted by the kindness and generosity of spirit we were shown and with a renewed sense that we are more alike than different. Bridges were built. I am inspired by the enormous all-volunteer effort that went into organizing such an important event. May we reach out more to each other, connecting person to person to understand and support one another in our vigilance against hate and intolerance. As-salaamu alaikum. May peace be with you.