It’s that time of year again. Muslims around the world have just finished fasting during Ramadan, marking the lead up to Eid al-Fitr on 17 July. The #ShareRamadan concept has long existed, as older generations of Muslims have shared their food with their neighbours during and outside of Ramadan, or local community leaders and businesses organise interfaith iftars (breaking of the fast). But last year, three Muslims from Oldham decided they would encourage more young people to engage in interfaith social practices by inviting their work colleagues, friends and neighbours of all faiths and none to partake in the fasting experience.

Last year people around the world fasted for one or more days to experience what it was like for their Muslim friends, before attending iftar at their Muslim friends’ homes where they broke the fast together. Some new to fasting had perhaps never visited a mosque before, so decided to accompany their friends for the Tarawih prayer at night. The concept of #ShareRamadan vividly demonstrated multicultural conviviality is alive and well in Britain. The detailed accounts on social media and the video diaries of the experiences of those who are participating in this religious practice are fascinating for those interested in everyday multiculturalism. Last year, I compiled some of the accounts in a blog post to highlight these practices.

This year, I have been keen to follow new accounts of the experience. ‘Red boots’ multiculturalism has been used to describe the idea of food, festivals and fun being the focus of multicultural governmental policies. This once popular theory of multiculturalism has rightly been heavily criticised for neglecting the real issues of inequality. We must never neglect to highlight issues of inequality, particularly important now in times of austerity, as observed in the rise of food banks and voluntary organisations assisting the homeless, as well as those struggling to pay for food after rent and bills are paid.

There are Muslims in Britain who have set up voluntary groups to help those who are suffering poverty, again illustrating models of interfaith work that are common throughout Britain. Volunteers at the Myriad Foundation have set up the Feed A Friend Project, which provides local foodbanks and shelters with donations from mosque congregations, as well as running a mobile food kitchen every Wednesday in Piccadilly Gardens. Every year, another group of Muslims encourage local Mancunians to come and feed the homeless during Ramadan. There are countless positive examples of everyday multiculturalism taking place up and down Britain which mainstream media outlets would do well to present to their audiences.

With #ShareRamadan, we have an interesting case of community cohesion where fasting, food and (religious) festivals can result in multicultural mingling, as evidenced in the responses of those engaging with it, and research into this area would be useful for understanding everyday multiculturalism. One of the Christian participants this year who fasted for four days reflected on how he would like to do more than just fast, so he went out and assisted the Myriad Foundation with their weekly popup kitchen in Piccadilly Gardens.

Last week, MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) organised a community iftar for people of all faiths and none to gather together to share a Ramadan meal at The Sheridan Suite. They collaborated with the Myriad Foundation and the #ShareRamadan team to put on an informative and entertaining evening. The three groups – MEND, Myriad and Share Ramadan – invited their friends, colleagues and neighbours to the iftar, so in attendance were teachers, academics, public sector workers, union representatives, representatives of synagogues and churches, and many more. Guests also included volunteers from Coffee 4 Craig and Community Awareness Network who regularly work with Myriad to help the homeless in Manchester. Some of those who learnt more about Ramadan decided they would fast for some of its remaining days.

Over 400 people from a variety of backgrounds came together to learn about Islam and Ramadan, the contribution of Islamic civilisation to the modern world, the communal need to challenge Islamophobia and all other forms of hate, as well as Islam’s contribution to modern-day Britain. One of the guests told me that he feels Manchester is a unique place where diverse people are united, able to gather together and have great conversations about identity and belonging. Nanu Miah of Share Ramadan highlighted the significance of community, “The more we share, the more we give and form unity between communities, then the far right racists and extremists will not have a voice in our society. They will only have a voice when we choose not to be engaged in doing good. We cannot be detached observers in this great theatre of life.”

On the day, there was a quiz and an interesting double act by two local psychiatrists, Asad Sadiq and Shazad Amin, enlightened us about Islamic history and its impact on our everyday lives, including coffee, algebra and medicine.

Fasting is an Abrahamic tradition – Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and many Christians observe Lent – Zeeshan Ashraf explained, “Often people extol the health benefits of fasting. For example, giving the body a rest from constant food. So for instance, we all know about the French claiming to have invented the so-called 5:2 diet, whereby you eat five days and fast for two. Incidentally, it was not the French who invented it. The Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) over 1,400 years ago had a tradition of fasting Mondays and Thursdays each week, and millions of Muslims since then have followed suit.”

Ali Mahmood of Myriad Foundation discussed the brilliant work done in Manchester by dedicated Myriad volunteers, whose many projects include Feed A Friend, raising awareness about giving blood, Soup and Smiles, Eid gift collection for local hospices, My Hospice Buddy and fundraising over £15,000 for Christie Hospital.

Myriad are organising a trek – if you would like to get involved in the trek or any of their projects contact them via Facebook or email on info@myriadfoundation.org for more information on how to volunteer.
myriadfoundation.org

Background image: Mix-Up by Vincent James.

Saida Habib