Ramadan ‘Open Iftar’ held in Birmingham’s Centenary Square to challenge Islamophobia

Over 200 people gathered in Birmingham’s Centenary Square over the weekend, for an open community Iftar event to mark the first full week of Ramadan. Despite the gloomy weather,...

Over 200 people gathered in Birmingham’s Centenary Square over the weekend, for an open community Iftar event to mark the first full week of Ramadan.

Despite the gloomy weather, the feast attracted attendees from across the Muslim community, with guests of different faiths and backgrounds showing solidarity amid a rise in Islamophobic hate crime in the UK.

The faithful joined the outdoor reception just before sunset on Saturday (March 16), in anticipation of breaking their fasts, a time of day commonly referred to as ‘Iftar’ during the religious holy month.

Braving the rain, friends and families sat on floor mats outside the Library of Birmingham, listening to inspiring speeches, religious recitation and Islamic songs known as Nasheeds; before dates, water and hot food were distributed to all.

15-year-old Hanzalah Haider launched the evening’s programme with a ten-minute recitation of Qur’anic verses.

Reflective contributions were delivered by Haniya Aadam from Green Lane Masjid who spoke about her conversion to the Islamic faith and the rise of Islamophobia; and from Imam Abdul Ghani who discussed the humanitarian situation in Palestine amid the current ongoing Israeli war on Gaza.

Their speeches were followed by vocalist Mikhaael Mala performing two Islamic songs about Ramadan before announcing the call to prayer across the square. The 23-year-old performer from West Bromwich has accumulated a worldwide following for his recitation skills and has over 25 million video views on YouTube.

Hosted by Free Palestine Birmingham, organisers ensured the event location was generously dressed up in Palestinian flags and signs condemning Islamophobia, in response to recent comments by Lee Anderson MP that “Islamists” had “got control” of the mayor of London.

Anderson made and refused to apologise for his comments while he was a Conservative party MP but defected to Reform UK after being suspended following the incident last month.

Following Anderson’s suspension, fellow Conservative MP Paul Scully claimed there were ‘no-go’ areas in Birmingham, which led to an uproar resulting in his resignation.

In October, Mish Rahman, a Wolverhampton member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, said his party also needed an enquiry into Islamophobia while Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana branded Labour as “institutionally Islamophobic” only a month later.

Islamophobic hate attacks in the UK have more than tripled in the four months since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October, according to the Tell Mama monitoring group. The organisation documented a steep rise is anti-Muslim incidents between 7 October and 7 February.

The group additionally highlighted that Muslim women were targeted in two out of every three recorded incidents, a statistic not lost on those congregating for the Birmingham open Iftar.

As the Ramadan celebration was being set up, a passer-by harassed a hijab wearing Muslim woman before stewards stepped in to remove him.

Supported by Alum Rock Friends of Palestine, the open Iftar was raising money for As-Suffa Relief, who’s new CEO Saleem Ahmed spoke about the importance of addressing Islamophobia.

“Today’s open Iftar event is here to address the issue of Islamophobia and to respond to it in the best way possible which is to invite all people, Muslims and non-Muslims, to come and enjoy an Iftar in Ramadan and to support the people of Gaza,” he said.

“It is important to share that because ultimately, being God conscious, we believe makes you a better person, being accountable for your actions, trying to restrain yourself when you’re angry, when you’re hungry and all sorts of things like that, so we believe everyone can benefit from those sorts of behaviours and characteristics.”

Saraya Hussain, director at humanitarian charity ISRA-UK, attended the event with her daughter Akeelah.

“The open Iftar, I think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea, it’s a good opportunity for people to come together. We’ve got a really high proportion of Muslims in the city of Birmingham.

“I’ve been able to speak to quite a few people who are waiting for the fast breaking and quite a few non-Muslims who are here, and I think it’s just a great example of what the city of Birmingham is and what we represent here.” she said.

“I think it’s really important for us to be able to make a stand against Islamophobia, it’s something that most if not all Muslims, certainly in the West have experienced, especially in light of what’s going on in the Middle East, it’s really important that we come together as a community.

“ I think for us as Muslims it’s a great way for us to be able to showcase who we are, what we actually represent, and challenge some of the myths that are around Muslims.”

Iftar co-organiser and youth worker Abu Umaymah said: “We want to bring people from all faiths, all backgrounds, to experience what it’s like to open their fast in congregation.

“There’s also many Muslims who don’t get a chance to open their fast in congregation due to having family abroad or maybe having no relatives here, so it’s a good chance for everyone to break their fast, enjoy themselves and put out a strong message against Islamophobia.

“We’ve seen politicians have been openly commenting, referring, saying that the Islamists are taking over, the Prime Minister has refused to condemn these kinds of comments, so the community, we’re making a stance and saying this cannot go on any longer. We want our sisters to be able to be safe and our brothers to go out without having to worry about anything.

“More importantly, we want this to be a chance to put out a big statement for the politicians to see that the religion is a religion of peace, we don’t mean any harm, and we’re willing to work with people of all faiths.”



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