On the steps of the Royal Albert Hall, over 500 British Muslims and their non-Muslim friends gathered to celebrate an #OpenIftar during the month of Ramadan.
The significance of the South Steps is that they are the backdrop of many red-carpet events held at the venue. As we say in the colloquial, these aren’t just any steps, these are Royal Albert Hall steps.
The evening theme had a strong Turkish influence. The man who announced the call to prayer, Abdullatif Aydin, is originally from Turkey and works as a Urologist in London. He made the adhan in the Segah style and shared that in Turkey.
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Each call to prayer is in a different style. So that, depending on what you hear, you will know which prayer it is for. I found that fascinating!
The main guest for the evening was the new Turkish ambassador, Osman Koray Ertas. He spoke about the tragedy of the recent earthquake that damaged parts of the country.
But like with so many other things, he was pleased to see the British Muslim community coming together through this #OpenIftar initiative. And in his view, the best thing about Ramadan is that people have time to pause, reflect, look inwards, and improve themselves. That was an admirable reminder.
I had the opportunity to ask both men how they enjoyed breaking their fast. Surprisingly, they both said, with lentil soup. Culturally this is very different from the samosas and pakoras found in most South Asian households, and certainly a much healthier option! On the night, however, Spice Village blessed us all with some delicious butter chicken.
Another speaker on the night, Jonathan Wilson, converted to Islam over 20 years ago. One of the memories he shared was of sitting in his living room with his parents many years ago, when Ramadan crossed over with Christmas, telling his parents that they couldn’t have their traditional meal of a Christmas turkey until the sun set – so they could all eat together as he was fasting.
On a more serious note, he raised the issue of identity, something many people struggle with. As a child, for example, he didn’t know his parents were ‘black’ until he went to school and, suddenly, that was an identity given to him. Race is taught.
Today, he defines his identity as British, Muslim, Scottish, Caribbean, a musician, martial arts, and a professor. He says it took him years to define who he was. All the different labels attached to him reflect who he is as a person. And this is the same struggle many others go through in life because identity is often misunderstood or mismanaged.
One of my favorite verses in the Qur’an is where God says that God has created us in different communities so that we may get to know one another.
Each community has its own culture and customs. One is not superior to another. And as people and communities grow ever closer, many of us have multiple labels with multiple interests.
It is part of God’s Mercy to humankind to have so much richness in this life, and gratitude to God is to be thankful for being able to see, experience, and enjoy so much of what life can offer.