Report by Naheed Khokhar
A story displayed in hundreds of homes in Canada during the month of Ramadan!
This is not a big news. It is just a little description of a small efforts to create religious and cultural harmony and understanding in our community.
On May 9th, I had the honour of contacting Suzan McKenzie, who had reached out to the Ahamdiyya Muslim Jamaat through the Fast with a Muslim Campaign. She had seen Safwan Choudry Sahib on City TV and was very interested in learning more about the campaign.
In our first conversation, Suzan and I shared a little about our backgrounds and why we were both participating in the Fast with a Muslim Family campaign. Suzan said she would like her family to participate and said she would need to speak to them before committing to a date. I shared how I wanted to share my beautiful religion with others and share with others the true colours of Islam.
We both decided to have a conference call on May 19th with both our spouses to iron out the details of our new-found adventure.
During the conference call, we decided on an Iftaar date of Saturday June 9th, 2018. With a fasting breaking at 9 pm, Saturday seemed liked a good option for both families. Both families would keep a fast on June 9th and then in the evening we would ‘break’ the fast together. We spoke of the potential challenges we might face and how to overcome them. We sent Suzan a timetable of the Ramadhan timings for the Toronto area.
I emailed Suzan on June 5th to ask if all was on track for June 9th. She said that it was and asked if she needed to know anything else. I mentioned the “2-fasts/day” rule in case her children, ages 18 years and 13 years, felt the fast to be overwhelming.
The morning of June 9th at 4:13 am, Suzan emailed me to share that breakfast was finished and the fast had begun.
At 1 pm, I called Suzan to ask how the day was going. Thirteen year old Sofia responded with, “I am hungry.” I reminded Suzan that Sofia is not obliged to fast and that she can keep two fasts in one day.
Suzan, Frank, Julian and Sofia arrived at 7:30pm. We introduced our families to each other. The gents sat in our drawing room and the ladies settled in the family room.
The ladies spoke about how they felt keeping the fast during the day. Suzan shared how she kept herself busy to keep her mind off of her tummy. Sofia shared that she opened her fast at approximately 3pm, but then proceeded to keep it with us until 9pm.
We opened our fast at 9 pm with dates and samosa. We read namaaz while Suzan and her family watched. I had shared our book on Salaat with her so she was able to follow our gestures. Our family warmed the food and then we all sat for dinner. Suzan started eating and realized that she did not have room for food she had placed in her plate. Her portion was very reasonable, but after a day of fast, she felt her tummy was not ready for so much food.
We explained that when we start fasting at the beginning of the month, eating in the wee hours of the morning is hard and breaking the first few fasts is usually with nominal food. Once the digestive system gets used to the new eating pattern, it becomes a little easier.
We ended the evening by sharing our feelings about the experience.
Sofia: she felt the most difficult part was not eating all day as she is used to munching on a regular day. When asked if she would try it again, she responded with “Maybe.” Suzan reports that after leaving, she excitedly asked when she could do this again!
Suzan: she loves to travel and always felt that Canada is an oasis of countries that she can visit, without ever leaving her country. She wanted to expose her family to other cultures and faiths. She stated Canadians are very tolerant of one another… but are we understanding? She wants Canadians to be more understanding of one another. She said to understand one another, we need to experience. She adds, “I am overwhelmed, humbled, and so grateful for this experience to learn more about this Muslim faith. I learned that this is a religion of peace, love, justice and compassion, similar to my own religion of Catholicism. It was interesting to be introduced to Ahmadiyya Muslims, because I had not even thought about or realized that there are different organizations within Islam. “Thank you to this wonderful family for their generosity in opening their hearts and homes to us! We felt very welcome. We absolutely loved interacting with everyone, and it was different for us to interact with the extended family in this Brampton home – grandparents, in-laws, and cousins from different countries. It was very exciting!! Naheed and her daughter, Nazurah, welcomed us with presents, including beautiful scarves, obviously chosen with thoughtfulness. There were coffee mugs with the beautiful words “Love for all, Hatred for none” and the dove of peace with an olive branch in its beak, which amazingly, is the same symbol for Sofia’s Catholic school, Our Lady of Peace! We were also given explanations of the prayers to “open” the fast so that we could follow along, and books and pamphlets to explain Islam’s teachings, and I really look forward to going through them. I must say that this was much more than our family expected of this experience!
Julian: It was very interesting to see and learn about the whole process of what Muslims do daily during Ramadan. I really enjoyed the experience.
Frank: I did not have difficulty with fasting during the day, since I am usually very busy at work. What was different was realizing that fasting during Ramadan also meant being patient and being good to others. I really had a wonderful time with this family, and they made me feel immediately comfortable.
Naheed: I enjoyed sharing our faith and was impressed with how many similarities Suzan found amongst our faiths. We spoke of our 10 day Itikaaf, which Suzan compared to a 10-day retreat a priest might take to build their relationships with God. The concept of head covers in places of worship was something Suzan personally grew up with and does not recall when it stopped.
Farhan: I did not feel like we were meeting for the first time. It was like Frank and family had been our neighbours for years and we were just having dinner together.
Nazurah: I love to travel and having recently visited the Vatican [Frank is from Italy and the family was visiting Italy. I had a lot to share with Suzan and Sophia. The experience was excellent and I hope to be able to share our beautiful religion for more people in the near future.
Arslaan: Julian is doing a spring term at Ryerson University. I am a third year Ryerson student . It was nice to connect and meet new families. We built a nice bond with Julian within a matter of minutes.
Mina’am: The experience was excellent. He made a new friend as Julian is the same age as I am. It is amazing how a discussion based on religion can bring people together.
Khala Bushra [Denmark]: She shared how her Danish friends have told her to respond to Danes who ask her to remove her head coverings – she should say that when she is shown a picture of when mother, Mary, uncovers her head, she might consider.
Naeem Bhai [England]: A very interesting experience indeed. I was glad to have been part of the event.
Ami Bushra: she shared her experience of living in Africa and being married in Pakistan – two cultures at opposite ends of the spectrum… and yet, the common thread of faith has kept a strong bond between them.
Abu Akram: Very nice family indeed. I was very happy that they joined us for dinner and were able to observe our namaaz [prayers].
Thank you, Suzan for sharing your pride and joy with our pride and joy. We hope to see each other again soon