A Meal by Sunset – A Community brought together
Greta Htwe

For some people, it’s difficult to imagine not eating or drinking for 8 hours a day, for 30 days straight, but for the Muslim community, this is a tradition during Ramadan – a holy month of fasting and prayer. For the Muslim community, this happens annually. During Ramadan, Muslims can only have meals before sunrise (Suhoor) and after sunset (Iftar). So on Saturday 8th of April, I was lucky enough to attend an Iftar dinner organised by the Hamilton Muslim community at Claudelands Arena. This event was open to the public and free, encouraging people of all ages, faiths and cultural backgrounds to attend. By doing so, cultural barriers were able to be overcome which made the event more communal and inclusive. I spoke to Esra Yaghi, a member of the Muslim community and an English teacher, who told me that “ the event being invitation-only would mean that you would either have to be Muslim or know a Muslim to be invited.” “ invitations create barriers.” so without them, it created more inclusivity.

The idea for this communal dinner came about as an expression of thanks regarding the March 15th Mosque attacks, Esra had told me. On the day of the attacks in Christchurch and the days following it, the Hamilton community helped to protect the Mosques. And so, to acknowledge the bravery and kindness of the Hamilton community during those times, the event was organised.

When I walked into the building, there were many kind volunteers who greeted us at the door and told us where to put our shoes. The men put their shoes on one side of the foyer while the women put theirs on the other. In the main room, there were long strips of table cloth set up on the floor as well as rows of white tables for people to sit and eat on. The atmosphere was very friendly and bubbly and I saw friends and family hugging each other as more people arrived. Set up on the tables and tablecloths were plastic bags filled with snacks and drinks to break the fast. These included a juicebox, dates, water bottle and a piece of fruit; dates being a common start to the average Iftar meal during Ramadan. Before this though, there were speeches given on the importance of Ramadan to Muslim Culture and to dispel some common misconceptions surrounding it. Such as the major fact that Ramadan isn’t just about abstaining from food and drink but also about abstaining from sin (haram) such as jealousy, anger, pride etc.

As soon as the sun set, we were allowed to break the fast. I could see around me how starving people were and how happy they were to eat again after having waited all day. I don’t know if I would’ve had the willpower to last so long. Shortly after that, we were served dinner: Chicken Biriyani with Yoghurt and some dessert. It was very tasty and filling following the snacks and drinks beforehand. There was a prayer before we ate this meal, and many people congregated together for this.

Overall, it was a new but enlightening experience for me. I was able to learn more about Muslim cultural traditions and celebrations that I was previously not familiar with. It was cool to see people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds come to this event and have a good time. From the different Muslims groups who came together to organise the event, funding from Non-Muslim groups to the catering of the food – It was a major communal effort that resulted in a successful event. This Iftar dinner was the first one to be organised in Hamilton and I think it had a great turnout. I think that this is the start of a great annual event that will bring the Muslim and wider Hamilton community together for a long time.