The Attawheed Islamic Center (AIC) in Carnegie welcomed members of the interfaith community to share their nightly iftar dinner on Sunday, June 2, including 35 South Hills Jewish men and women.
Iftar is the traditional meal eaten by Muslims at sunset to break the daily fast observed as part of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The holiday, which took place from May 7-June 5, is observed worldwide by Muslims through fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
According to center member Bill Bartlett, “one of the five pillars of Islam is zakat, or giving to the poor, which is why we fast during Ramadan. It reminds us of those that don’t eat daily.”
AIC President Chokri Guetari explains that during the holy month, “we break fast as a community at sunset with a small portion of food, dates, water or something like that, then we break for prayer, which is usually about five or 10 minutes, and after come back for the main meal.”
The center has always been open to the community for iftar, according to Guetari, but this year they reached out specifically to the South Hills Jewish community. “This has been going on for some years, however, when the incident in New Zealand (Christchurch mosque terrorist attack on March 15) happened, local Jewish men and women showed up: Beth El, Rabbi Alex and his congregation. They came for Friday prayer to show their support. This was an opportunity for us to learn more about each other.”
Beth El Congregation Senior Rabbi Alex Greenbaum described the process of engagement between the South Hills Jewish and Muslim communities: “A couple of months ago, after New Zealand, we came here on a Friday to show our support and the hope was that we were starting a relationship. Recently, Chokri invited us to share their iftar meal because there’s a tradition of inviting guests. We’re very excited to be here.”
While the largest group of interfaith attendees were from the Jewish community, Christians were also present. David Carver, pastor at First United Presbyterian Church in Crafton Heights, is a longtime attendee of iftar meals at AIC.
“Eight or 10 years ago, I thought, ‘I don’t know a lot about Islam and given the way the world is, I probably should,’” Carver said. “I came home from a study leave, did a lot of reading and taught a class at my congregation: Islam and Christianity, which looked at the central tenets of both religions. At the end of the class, we came down here for a tour. After the Charlie Hebdo bombing in Paris, I sent a letter of condolences saying the God I worship does not condone this kind of nonsense in the name of religion, then they asked if they could come to our church. Since then, it’s been five or six years that I’ve been coming to an iftar here. After the bombings in Sri Lanka, when so many Christians were killed, they sent a delegation to pray with us and offer condolences.”
Greenbaum believes that this is the start of a long-term relationship.
“I’ve met with one of their education planners and we are planning a series in the fall of joint education programs where we would visit here and they would visit us,” he said. “The Muslim community first came out to support us, and then we came out to support them. Hopefully something good comes out of something awful.”
Guetari thinks that both congregations can learn from one another.
“We’re facing the same issues as the Jewish community here at Attawheed. We never thought of security as a main issue for us, but since the New Zealand incident, it is now on the top of everyone’s mind. So we’re trying to learn from the Jewish community.”
He believes cooperation between all religions is important and opportunities like the community iftar help to educate about Islam.
“It is important we benefit from each other and extend the relationships between the various religions to better understand where everyone comes from,” he said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, so this is an opportunity for us to show people what Islam is about.”
Iftar attendee Bob Silverman echoed Guetari: “Any opportunity we have to gather as one community is valuable and important.” pjc
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