LONDON – Connecting London people on a humanitarian level, a group of Muslim volunteers have organized special iftars for the homeless and people of other communities to break barriers and correct misconceptions about Islam.
"We want this Ramadan campaign to challenge some of the misconceptions people have about Islam,” Omar Salha, an alumnus of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told The BBC on Thursday, July 11.
"But it's also about connecting with all communities on a more humanistic level.
"It's only right that as Muslims and Londoners we serve the wider London community in the spirit of Ramadan," he added.
The special iftars, held at Ramadan Tent in SOAS in Bloomsbury, central London, were first suggested by Salha, an activist in Muslim volunteer activities across Britain.
His experience in hosting iftar dates back to 2011 when he organized an iftar for SOAS students.
At this iftar, participants gave out meals to the homeless in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a large public square in Holborn, central London.
This experience spurred Salha to create a more organized campaign this year for the entirety of Ramadan, with the support of individual donors and various restaurants, such as homeless charity St Mungo's.
For him, these iftar were important to remove the negative portrayals of Islam and for Muslims to understand how to contribute positively to London.
"Some residents from St Mungo's saw our advert in their residence and came," said Salha.
"They were reluctant to say who they were at the beginning, but later said they were happy that there are still people reaching out to them."
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started in Britain on Wednesday, July 10.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Fasting is meant to teach Muslims patience, self-control and spirituality, and time during the holy month is dedicated for getting closer to Allah though prayers, reading the Noble Qur’an and good deeds.
The majority of Muslims prefer to pay Zakah for the poor and needy during the month.
Attending the iftar, many non-Muslims were touched by the warmth of special Muslim traditions in Ramadan.
"The event has allowed people to access a belief and culture that may be alien to them,” David Muller, who is from Switzerland, said.
"I think more people may like to know about it and that's why this gathering is valuable."
Alyna Rogow, who lives in the US, found the experience educating.
"I already knew eating dates was important," said Rogow.
"But I've been learning more about the terminology of Ramadan. I've really liked the atmosphere here today and I've been talking to people about how to volunteer and donate."
Seeing the success of their experience, Salha said he hoped the campaign would grow and have a presence in important London landmarks.
"We have a vision of having iftar in Trafalgar Square with people from all walks of life and all communities.
“It would be a huge compliment to London's diversity."
Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.
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