Ramadan Experience Dinner: Event Recap
By: Hope Williams
On Tuesday, June 28th, the Niagara Foundation hosted the Ramadan Experience Dinner in conjunction with First Presbyterian Church. The event brought together people of different faiths, cultures, and experiences to learn and discuss Ramadan – the Holy Month for Muslims.
The night began with welcoming remarks by Nanette Sawyer, one of First Presbyterian’s pastors. She told us about the Church’s Interfaith Resource Center, a center that reaches out to other faiths to create relationships and understanding between individuals of different faiths. They aim to come together and find hope and grace in a heavy world, aiming at creating peace. She also explained that, “religion teaches us to commit to serve for the common good,” just as the Niagara Foundation believes. Religion should bring us together for a purpose, not pit us against each other.
Next, the emcees, Alex and James – two of Niagara’s interfaith interns – explained the meaning of fasting and Ramadan. They spoke about the self awareness that comes from fasting, a self awareness that brings each Muslim closer to God. They then introduced the keynote speaker: Kareem Irfan, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. He welcomed everyone with greetings of peace, and thanked the Niagara Foundation for promoting varying diversity awareness. He explained that we live in a world of compassion, peace, and justice, and the Presbyterian Church shows these fully by welcoming all faiths. They truly aim for a world of mutual understanding. Irfan then explained that hate and violence is surrounding us, seen especially by the Turkey attacks earlier that Tuesday.
Ramadan is time of nourishing one’s soul and suppressing instincts in order to get closer to God. He then said, “to come with nothingness to god and to thank the Lord is sincere prayer.” He then brought up how fasting is truly a form of worship, bringing one closer to God. Jesus fasted, which Christians now honor and remember with Lent – just as Muslim do with Ramadan. Irfan stated that, “the goal [of Ramadan] is transformation.” A spiritual, physical, and upward social transformation is the aim of Ramadan for Muslims, as well as goals of piety and closeness to God. This fasting leads to a consciousness of the Lord. Without eating or drinking from dawn until dusk, your heart and soul have the ability to fast from impurities. In such a tragedy filled world, mercy nourished the world so thirsty for compassion. All faith aims for mercy, which is feeling love and acting on it. Irfan continued to explain that we all share so much in common – a quest for the divine. These commonalities should force us to stand up against social injustice. The presidential rhetoric in the United States has crossed all lines of hatred and it is up to the citizens to promote social righteousness. We must not remain silent in the world today, but stand up for what is right. The world is divided by the acts of a few, so we mustn’t let hate divide us. He then closed his speech once again offering a prayer of peace.
Ebru art form, or water marbling, is a beautiful traditional Turkish art form, in which Sevim Surucu, a turkish artist, painted on water. After painting on the water, she would lay a paper over the water and pull it off slowly, which would then make the pain transition to the paper. Everyone was truly amazed at this artistic ability, and the beauty of the paintings. Another key element in the Turkish Arts is the music of the Ney, which is a traditional Turkish wind instrument made of the sugar cane. A performance of this truly distinct and historical musical instrument, was performed by a performer. After the blowing of the Ney, Ahmet Cavus read parts of the the call to prayer Surat’ul Mariam, which is the Quran’s Chapter on Virgin Mary, as well as the call to prayer that leads to the breaking of the fast. Everyone then headed out to the lobby, picked up their dates to break the fast, then went downstairs to the iftar meal. The tradition of breaking the fast at the iftar meal happened once the sun set in Chicago. The food was delicious, and each table was full of individuals of different religions and cultures.
During dinner, each table did their own “discussion starters,” which led to many conversations on the current world and each individual’s experiences. At my table, we discussed the importance of our role models like Jesus and Muhammad, political figures like Donald Trump, and the terrorist attacks in Turkey. We had people of many religions at our table – Muslims, Jews, Christians, and even a Quaker. Hearing each person’s opinions and experiences with injustices was truly eye opening. The dinner conversations at my table made me think for days about just how different every person’s life experience is.
The Ramadan Experience dinner was truly a success – a night full of dialogue, relationships, and further understanding of Islam. The speakers and artists truly brought beauty to the event, and helped everyone there to further fathom the importance of Ramadan.