I’ve never been to an Iftar before. I’ve never really celebrated Ramadan before. Growing up in India, Ramadan was a cause of celebration simply because it was a holiday from school but with very few Muslims in my school, biryani never made its way into my home.

And I know that Ramadan is more than biryani but because of growing up in a different faith and not having diversity around me, I never wondered and never asked.

But things are different now. I went to a government institute for college, which brought with it many culture shocks and much-needed awakenings. My bubble finally popped and I met people from different walks of life, and this included different faiths. I went to the Gurudwara every Guru Nanak Jayanti and collected flowers for pookalam every Onam. I discovered that I didn’t like biryani (only because I’m vegetarian though, and I’ve been reminded several times that vegetarian biryani is not biryani). I began to grasp the political undercurrents of my country. I discovered the term ‘privilege’ and I’ve recognised mine ever since. But I still hadn’t been to an Iftar.

I moved to London last year and it’s been 11 months of trying to discover my identity. Be it cultural or otherwise, it’s probably a natural phenomenon for a 24-year-old to wonder who she is. Who am I used to just be a Jackie Chan film to me, now it’s the thread in which my story is woven. But that story is for another day, today’s is about my first Iftar.

Ramadan Tent Project is an award-winning not-for-profit organisation which seeks to bring communities together and to develop the understanding and experience of Ramadan for all. For the last 10 years, they have been organising ‘Open Iftar‘ across the UK, which aims to bring communities together to break fast, share food and have wholesome conversations with inspirational guest speakers. At the core of an Open Iftar is the spirit of turning strangers into friends over a meal – that’s what it was for me.

I went to an Open Iftar organised at the British Library. This year, many iconic locations played host to the Ramadan Tent Project’s big undertaking, including the V&A museum, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and even a few premier football stadiums. What this symbolises to me is that Iftar is for all to partake in, the goodwill of Ramadan is for all cultures to experience so long as they come with open and loving hearts. That’s what I experienced at the British Library. I was sitting next to strangers and the person to my right quickly introduced himself.

Ahsan and I launched into conversation immediately, skipping through basic formalities and going straight into my our experiences across the border from each other, me in India, Ahsan in Pakistan. We talked about propaganda and we talked about faith, we talked about toxic schooling systems and we talked about culture. We talked about home. And when we shared our thoughts over piping hot lasagna. I felt like I was in the moment of building a new one.

I followed many of those present to the prayer areas and though I had never done it before, I soon got a hold of what those were doing around me. I bowed and I wished and I made silent thanks of gratitude. With my shawl wrapped around my head and devout faces around me, I felt reconnected to my annual tradition of visiting the Gurudwara.

It felt different yet similar, and to me that was beautiful.

The following has been taken right out of the pamphlet but the words ring true to me:

Open Iftar invites people from all walks of life and is open to people of all faiths and none to come together during the holy month of Ramadan to break bread and create spaces of mutual dialogue, engagement, and exchange. ‘Iftar’ is the meal that is prepared and offered to Muslims observing Ramadan when breaking their fast. Open Iftar is Ramadan Tent Project’s flagship initiative increasing community harmony, and belonging, softening hearts and minds, and turning strangers into friends.

To date, Open Iftar has convened and connected over 350,000 people across the UK at some of Britain’s most loved and iconic cultural landmarks and institutions. Distributed over 150,000 hot meals in Ramadan, hosted over 300 guest speakers and collaborated with over 100 partners across the UK.

You can be sure that I’ll be going back next year.

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Aishwarya is a science communicator with a keen interest in lending words to diverse voices. When she's not got a Google Doc open, you can find her window-shopping on Instagram or playing with her cat (Diwali).