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Thousands of people from all over Bristol descended on Easton yesterday to celebrate a Grand Iftar meal as Muslims broke their fasting for Ramadan.

Photos: Samar Khan

The rituals of Ramadan are orchestrated by the phase of the moon and the position of the sun in our sky. In 2019, the days of Ramadan begin at 3am with the sun rising. At this time, Muslim families across the country are stood in their living rooms and bedrooms, praying together after having eaten their Sehri the only meal they will have until sunset at 9pm.

Sehri is one of many rituals that family units and communities as a whole partake in. Breaking the fast, or Iftar, is the time that everyone is home for. The day’s reflections, appreciation for one another and prayers are shared over hearty meals.

Last night, the 24 mosques of Bristol came together in Easton to share this ritual publicly. They hosted an Iftar outdoors on St. Marks Road and invited everyone.

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Sitting on the road amongst a huge diversity of faces I wondered if Easton was one of the few places in the country where Muslims could truly practise this together with their neighbours. 80% of Bristolians in Easton agree that ‘people from different backgrounds get on well together in their neighbourhood’, much higher than the city-wide statistic of 68%.

One thing is certain: all the attendees were united by their struggle against the intolerance that has consumed swathes of our society. St. Marks Road was the perfect venue for learning how to overcome this.

I met one lady who had travelled from Cornwall to attend because ‘she held bad feelings about Islam’. She told us that love she experienced in Easton last night disposed of all such feelings.

These are the people I spoke to as communities came together to take part in the Grand Iftar:

Lisa (community organiser for ‘interculture’) and Shaheen Akbar (Grand Iftar organiser)

“I’ve been overwhelmed with work and trying to get my team together and then I came here and I’m like.. I knew it! It’s given me a big boost and reinforced why what I do is important. I bring people together to break down barriers and that’s exactly what this event is. It re-humanises people, and young, black, Muslim men need all the good publicity they can these days.

“Also I bumped into the people I sat with last year who I didn’t know! The kids are a bit bigger, mum’s English a bit better so lush!”

Shaheen: “Panic over… we found a lost daughter… She was in the mosque!”

“This event was months in the making! We started meeting in January, it’s been a total mission. I’m motivated by how lovely it is when we can tolerate each other, that’s been the word that keeps coming in my head.”

“In the Quran, God says that he made us difference, placed us in different tribes in order for us to make an effort to talk to each other, to tolerate each other. I’ve been guided by a verse which reminds us of the relationship between the Muslims and the Christians. Allah orders us to be tolerant, to never stop others doing what they want. Any issues we have, we have to learn to overcome.”

Alisha and Amelia

“It feels really good seeing everyone together right on my street. I feel like it helps others learn about Islam as well what it means to fast. With an increasing about of Islamophobia, these kind of events are really good. I wonder if this kind of thing could happen outside of Easton cause of all the Islamophobia?”

Steve

“We’re foster carers for two Muslim young men, they are fasting so we’ve had to learn a lot. We are Christian and it’s been interesting living with another faith, it’s not necessarily easy but you realise that the basic principles of world faiths are the same; love and kindness, respect, God and wanting to get to know each other, though the languages and rituals are different.

“We can’t 100% join our foster children but this event helps a lot, we get to see all the similarities and celebrate the differences.”

Pam and Ros

“I was raised in Easton”

“And I was raised up Stapleton Road”

“I’ve never seen such a huge gathering with people eating together! I know all the mosques have come together to make this happen.”

Mohammed Elsharif (organiser)

“It was great event with thousands of people descending to celebrate such special moments of our faith. It was the one big Bristol family. As co-founder and organiser I feel so proud that the Grand Iftar is becoming one of Bristol’s iconic events. I would like to thank all the volunteers and the Muslim communities and businesses for making this happen.”

Eliza and Hamza Ahmed

Eliza: “I made 300 cakes. 301 actually! I just did them all out my mums oven, it took ages. All day yesterday and all day today so my feet are killing! I was on the news too, they filmed me in my kitchen!

“It’s lovely ’cause everyone here helped me! And everyone seems to have enjoyed the cake.”

Hamza: “This is a step up from last year. Lots more organisation and speakers. Everyone here is here because they believe in this unity.

Mushtaq Hussein (event manager)

“The strength of unity has really come through today. Lot’s of things had to be managed with this team, not only personalities but cultural differences too. The Muslim community is not a homogeneous community! The Kurdish, Somali, Pakistani… there are 92 languages in this city and each group did their share of the workload. It was a test but the beauty is that when we do come together in harmony and with peace we can create something special.”

Raqib (organiser)

“This is community funded, there is no council funding! Size-wise, the Bangladeshi community is small but they gave 1,800 meals, 30% of the funds came from them.

“People become generous at this time, there are many blessings in sharing. Food brings people together and that’s all we want to do.”

Muna Talha

“The most important thing is that it happened from within our communities. Every one of Bristol’s 24 mosques were involved this year offering food, volunteers and donations.

“We all participated in whichever way to fulfil the purpose of this month- to give all that we can.”

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