On June 15th, 2017 in partnership with the American Turkish Friendship Association the Rumi Forum held their annual signature iftar dinner to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.
This year’s Signature Ramadan Iftar Dinner took place in Fairfax, Virginia at the American-Turkish Friendship Association (ATFA) community center. The dinner began with short speeches by several distinguished guests of different faiths.
The first person to speak was Emre Celik, President of Rumi Forum. Celik discussed the importance of organizations like Rumi Forum and their role in bringing people together despite difficult political realities that often keep people of different backgrounds from meeting each other. In addition, he spoke about our collective inability to be complacent and the importance of constantly engaging with “the other” in order to improve interfaith and intercultural relations across society. He quoted a saying from Prophet Muhammed that, “when a guest arrives he brings ten blessings but leaves with only one”, meaning that by hosting and doing well for others, we become more blessed ourselves.
Next, Jack A. Goldstone, the Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University, spoke briefly about George Washington’s vision of the United States as a place where people of all religions are not only tolerated or indulged but respected and celebrated as equal citizens and full members of a larger community.
Following these remarks, Albert Triolo, a Senior Pastor at Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church in Springfield, Virginia, reflected on the laws and commandments given by God and the way that they teach us how to live lives that are holy not only in our relationship with God but in our relationships with other people. Additionally, Triolo discussed the idea of unity and how we create unity when we engage intentionally with people who are different from ourselves. The value of building unity allows us to grow as individuals and gain a better understanding of who God is in our lives and in the lives of others. He expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to learn more about the traditions of Ramadan and to grow with the rest of the Rumi Forum community.
Afterward, Cantor Hinda Labovitz, of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland spoke about a lesson she was taught as a student in elementary school. A teacher once told her that Jews should first know everything about Judaism before learning about other religions. Labovitz explained that although she thought it was important to understand the key aspects of one’s own religious identity, it would be impossible to know everything, so why wait in engaging with others? In fact, she said, “often we can learn the most about ourselves through discussions and relationships that we have with others”. She went on to discuss the term “chavruta” which means “study partner” in Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew, which refers to a friend or colleague who helps you engage in the study of Torah or other religious learning. This equation of learning with friendship provides a platform to strengthen ties with others through questioning and through shared study in a friendly and safe environment.
Imam Ali Siddiqui came to the podium next to speak about two of the most important aspects of Ramadan – the Quran and Prophet Muhammed. It is said that the Quran was revealed during the month of Ramadan, and at the same time, God chose Muhammed to be his final prophet. God describes both the holy book and the holy man as enlightened, and as tools for enlightenment for others. Imam Siddiqui spoke about the power of fasting and how it allows Muslims to reclaim control over their lives and over their own behavior. “By making us stronger, we are able to overcome challenges and become closer to God” the Imam stated. In addition, Prophet Muhammed said that Ramadan is about community and the Rumi Forum exemplifies that through their iftar dinners, of how to develop an interfaith community and connect diverse groups of people. “Bringing people together helps us embody the spirit of Ramadan and make the world a more loving and peaceful place”.
The next speaker, Marcus Simon from the Virginia House of Delegates, spoke briefly about the value of diversity that he sees in the Fairfax district which he represents. Simon emphasized how much richer the community becomes when it includes people of different backgrounds and spoke about his young son who attends a public school with students from over 85 different countries. “This diversity helps create a better, stronger, more literate student who ultimately can contribute to a better and stronger district”.
Finally, Mark Gibb, the founder of the NOVA Relief Center, gave a few words about the Center’s initiatives to bring aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The Northern Virginia Blanket Drive’s first delivery consisted of one and a half moving vans full of blankets. Since then the drive has grown and their last delivery was of over eleven moving vans worth of blankets. In addition, the Center is expanding to help more of the refugees who have resettled in Northern Virginia. Gibb spoke about his role as a bishop in the Church of Latter Day Saints and their tradition of fasting once a month. The purpose of this fast is to raise awareness for those who are less fortunate and the money that would be spent on food for that day is donated to the needy. Dedication to serving others is a consistent value throughout many religions and Gibbs noted how important Ramadan is as a reminder of this value and the communities who may need help.
Following these speeches, the fast was broken with a delicious iftar and guests had the opportunity to mingle and meet one another. Food was served by ATFA volunteers and provided everyone with a chance to sample Turkish cooking. There were about 50-70 people in attendence that night from various career and religioius backgrounds.
Jack A. Goldstone, Professor of Public Policy and Director of Center for Global Policy at George Mason University
Albert Triolo, Senior Pastor, St Mark’s Lutheran Church of Springfield, Virginia
Hinda Labovitz, Cantor, Ohr Kodesh Congregation
Imam Ali Siddiqui, Masjid Muhammad, Washington, D.C.
Delegate Marcus Simon, Virginia House of Delegates, Virginia’s 53rd district
Mark Gibb, Founder, and Chairman of the NOVA Relief Center