On June 8, St. James, Clintonville, hosted our 14th annual Community Iftar to honor and welcome our Muslim neighbors. The event was a resounding success, and we invite other congregations to host their own iftars and experience the rewards of true hospitality.

What is an iftar? During the month of Holy Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown and break their fast with an iftar meal. Ramadan fasting is a spiritual practice that teaches discipline and empathy for the experiences of the hungry. Traditionally, an iftar is a social event with a communal meal, and the hungry are invited to share in the bounty.

In 2003, parishioner Joy McCorriston started the tradition of St. James’ iftars in response to growing fear and prejudice against Muslims in the United States. Hosting an iftar is a concrete way to extend love and hospitality to our Muslim neighbors. Volunteers make new friends and learn about another faith while showing guests that many Christians accept and value Muslims. True hospitality is not only for those who look or worship the way we do – the Bible calls us to stretch our limits and to love the stranger.

The St. James Iftar has evolved from a small gathering to a banquet that requires every available table and chair. This year, we hosted about 170 people, including representatives from Noor Islamic Cultural Center, Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Our guests broke their fast with water and dates and prayed together in our repurposed fellowship hall, then joined us in the basement for the meal. The atmosphere was warm and cheerful, with a mixture of returning friends and first-timers, as well as several young children who ran laps through the crowd and enjoyed the play area. After the meal, the Rev. Bruce Smith, Priest Associate, gave a tour of the church to several curious guests.

This event would not have been possible without the generous support of many people, including the members and vestry of St. James; the Rev. Phillip J. Harris, Priest-in-Charge; and our friends at All Saints, New Albany; St. Matthew, Westerville; and North Broadway United Methodist Church. Volunteers and donors provided homemade side dishes and desserts, beverages, money to cover the cost of the catered entrée, and time and energy for setup and cleanup.

Hosting a community iftar need not be difficult or expensive. Next Ramadan will be May 15 – June 14, 2018. The hosts should provide a meal and an open space for prayer with any religious images covered or removed. The meal must not include any pork or alcohol, and any meat should be halal, meaning it has been prepared under Muslim law. Halal meat is available from many Middle Eastern butchers and restaurants. The St. James organizers would be delighted to answer any questions you may have about putting together your own event – get in touch at office@stjamesclintonville.org.

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Emily Wendel is a member of St. James, Clintonville.