Iftar dinner a shining lamp of unity in Johannesburg, South Africa

Mamiky Motshwane, Johannesburg

Turquoise Harmony Institute alongside the Nizamiye Complex hosted its annual iftar dinner, an event of friendship and unity, at the Nizamiye Complex in Midrand on 9 April.

Every year, the Turquoise Harmony Institute sends out invitations during the holy month of Ramadan, inviting those of other faiths and ethnic groups to come and enjoy an iftar meal (breaking the fast) with a family from their community. During Ramadan, Muslims aim to grow spiritually and build stronger relationships with Allah. They do this by engaging in the recitation of the Holy Quran, making their actions intentional and selfless, and abstaining from gossiping, lying, and fighting.

From sunrise to sunset people dry fast so that they can remind themselves of their blessings. Fasting is not only abstaining from food but rather also refraining from bad thoughts while encouraging the spreading of kindness, friendship, and love. During this time people are also not allowed to take medication, meaning that all health-related decisions must be taken prior Ramadan month.  

The iftar dinner is of high significance, because during this event people from different cultures, religions, and the government come together to be appreciative of each other and it is not everyday that one sees this kind of setting.

Gauteng MEC for Finance Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko said, “The Gauteng Provincial Government welcomes the good work that you are doing in our communities and would further like to encourage you to continue making a difference and bring relief where there is a desperate need. This shows us that the above self-sacrifice of supporting and giving to the needy, you have also prioritized education through your school program just as the prophet was commanded to read and teach and so too we must continue to read and teach others.”

The dinner was also graced by numerous prominent individuals from all faiths, cultures, and background.  Rabbi Saar Shaked from the Jewish faith thanked the organizers of the event, “Giving me the privilege to give a blessing in this, beautiful occasion, extending hospitality. This goes along to the hospitality and the relationship between me and this community, I’m in touch with several Jewish, several Muslim institutions, but with the Turquoise and with the Turkish community, I feel more because, we are both Mediterranean, we come from the Mediterranean.”

“So, I want to thank you for this hospitality and to really feel that we will earn hope that we’ll go from strength to strength in half from here, from South Africa, we portray that mutual life, coexistence, and working together is possible for the benefit of the community and to address the many challenges that we have simply to address the many challenges that we have, that we pray for peace,” Rabbi Shaked mentioned.

“We are concerned. We are within our rights to be concerned wherever we look there is, pain and war, and we hope that here from South Africa, we could bring this message of the rainbow and this measures of living together and building together a society, a strong civil society that celebrates its diversity,” he said.

Professor Farid Esak of the University of Johannesburg also at the dinner observed the work done by the movement was an amazing lesson for every individual. He referred to the mosque as a refuge where people can sit calmly whether for the tranquility or prayer. “The lesson the movement teaches us is, how do we continue to be of service despite the pebbles in our shoes that force us to limp and then we pretend that we’re not working normal all on the surface of humanity.”

Following the addressing of the gathering, the fast was broken at exactly 18:00 with dates and water. Following which dinner was served alongside inspiring conversations and a sense of unity and harmony prevailed over the gathering.

As the evening came to a close, attendees were keen to have their opinion on the event heard.

“I’m the retired judge president of North and South Gauteng High Courts. But presently I am the country’s tax ombud. I think is a very important occasion because, as I understand it, it aims at breaking the barriers that divide people into different categories. In terms of gender, color, race, and religion. This occasion aims to break those barriers. And I think those barriers need to be broken. It is precisely because of those barriers that the world is in turmoil today. And once you break those barriers, I think the world will be a better place for everybody,” said Bernard Ngoepe.

“These barriers need to be broken because one, they are false in the sense that they are just superficial. They are not based on any things and secondly, they are dangerous, because they divide us. And thirdly, it is as a result of them that today, people see each other as different and as I’ve said, they divide they divide the world. So much so that we miss a lot of things with which we have quite a lot in common as human beings,” Ngoepe observed.

Sindile Ngubane, from the University of South Africa, stated, “I’m a Muslim. But of course, I work with different faith groups, first in the work that I do, in promoting the rights of people with disabilities, and also ensuring that they social justice from among for marginalized communities. So, this particular event, I think it was actually a very good effort at ensuring that there is harmony between different faiths through faith groups, because there is always a misunderstanding, it’s as if there is a battle between religions.”

“And yet, we are all here, just like the first verse that they recited, where they are highlighting that God created us into different nations, so that we may all praise him in our different ways. So, the fact that we have Muslims, we have Jews, we have Hindus, we have Christians, and other people of other faiths is really a good effort to ensure that they also understand even the significance of the month of Ramadan,” said Ngubane.

The editor of the star newspaper, Sifiso Mahlangu said, “Today has been a symbol of unity. It happens in South Africa that this year in particular, maybe throughout the world, that Ramadan and Passover and Easter find each other on the same week the world’s biggest three worlds, biggest religious festivals beliefs, today is not, just a time to reflect. It’s also a time to know each other and to love each other. What this event means to me is that people at least know each other and love each other. Faith ultimately must be about tolerance and hope, right? It must be about aspiration. It must, there must be unifying factors that put us together.

And I think that this event has certainly achieved that we in this country, we’ve got a massive place to go. We need work in terms of religious tolerance, the fight against gender-based violence, the appreciation of women in terms of approaches that are nonviolent we’ve got work to do, but certainly an evening, like this is a fundamental and more mental start at achieving those goals. Many of us can sit at home and complain, or we can gather in this fashion and decide to do something, to bring across social provision in this country. And I think Niyazime has achieved that. I think, Turquoise Harmony Institute has achieved that. So, I celebrate that.”

Ayhan Cetin, Executive Director of the Turquoise Harmony Institute, observed, “Turquoise Harmony Institute is an NGO working on promoting, mutual understanding, peace, social cohesion, and Ubuntu. And we have been organizing this kind of iftar dinners, since 2006, last few years, we have been doing this together with Nizamiye complex. We believe, interfaith dialogue is very important for social fabric. Really usually seems to be one of the biggest reasons for conflict, but we try to change the narrative around that.”

Cetin continued, “We want to show people that the religion is actually something that brings people together. We don’t have to believe in what others, but we need to show everybody else. We can be different, but we can come together, but we can do something for the betterment of our fellow human being. And I think these kinds of gatherings are very important, cause in 1, 2, 3 hours time, we cannot change much. But I think in terms of giving the message out of peace and unity, it is an important event.”