Monday, May 27, 2024

The Cambridge Community Iftar on Wednesday welcomes hundreds to the Cambridge Street Upper School. (Photo: Alex Bowers)

The Cambridge Community Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast after sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, drew a record crowd to the Cambridge Street Upper School on Wednesday. Ramadan is a period of introspection, communal prayer and reflection on the Quran.

Hundreds of people representing the city’s diversity streamed into the school, filling the auditorium to capacity.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui welcomed the crowd and local officials, then highlighted the efforts of the many groups that collaborated to make the event successful.

“I also wanted to acknowledge that this has been a difficult year for many members of our Muslim community,” said Siddiqui, referring to Arif Sayed Faisal, 20. who was shot by police in early January while reportedly suffering mental distress. “We reflect during Ramadan, thinking about the people in our lives and [should] keep him and his families in our prayers.”

Cambridge Public School superintendent Victoria Greer was another speaker. “It’s a pleasure to be with you all this evening, to celebrate and recognize such sacred time of reflection, fasting and even celebration,” Greer said. “I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to serve you and your children and the entire Cambridge community.”

Iftar host Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, second from right, with School Committee members, from left, David Weinstein, Ayesha Wilson and Fred Fantini. (Photo: Alex Bowers)

City Manager Yi-An Huang, noting that Ramadan is central to the spiritual lives of many people around the world and in the city, called it “important that we are here together, because you are part of the fabric of Cambridge and we are a community together.”

The city is committed to reflecting on and remembering Faisal, and to taking steps against another such killing.

Katrina Kincade, a reporter for WBZ-TV and the first Muslim to win Miss Massachusetts, spoke about traveling statewide teaching people how Islam is based in kindness and acceptance.

She told of visits to the Cambridge YMCA and the city’s Amigos School, where she read the book called “The Proudest Blue,” about a young girl who wears a hijab – a headscarf – for the first time.

“My favorite part is when I ask the students if they know what a hijab is, and students raise their hands and tell about their teachers and their friend’s parents who wear hijab,” Kincade said. “It makes me smile, knowing that Cambridge is a diverse community with so many incredible role models and influential people.”

Zulikha Rashid, a seventh-grader at the Rindge Avenue Upper School, recited Verse 185 from the Quran in Arabic and English to provides guidance on the nature and reasons for fasting, while Fayez Khwaja, the Muslim spiritual adviser at the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service at Northeastern University, spoke of a verse that enjoins fasting on the Muslim community “as it was enjoined on those before you.“ He alluded to Christian and Jewish holy days that ask for sacrifice, such as Lent or Passover, and noted that almost all religions have some form of fasting.

“What makes fasting [for Ramadan] somewhat unique is its length, and the strenuousness of it. It is fasting from pre-dawn until sunset,” Khwaja said, calling it counterintuitive but true that fasting can focus the mind by disciplining the body and lifting up the spirit.

“Whenever I work with someone, I have a deal: if you fast, I’ll buy you dinner,” Khwaja said. “The best way to build friendships and community is to break bread together.”

Those who were fasting were offered water and dates before the start of the evening prayer, called Maghrib, with men and boys and women and small children praying separately in the school’s two gyms. 

After the prayers, the crowd was joined by newcomers who continued to stream into the school, filling the main cafeteria. Tables were set up in adjacent areas and rooms to accommodate relaxing and eating at communal tables.

Mughul’s Catering, which specializes in traditional Indian, Pakistani and Bengali cuisine and is owned by Cambridge resident Sabera Gafur and her daughter Nilofar Shaikh, provided dinner for the event for the first time. They provided more than 750 halal meals – food prepared in accordance with Muslim law – with butter chicken or vegetarian channa masala (chickpea curry) entrees.  There was also pizza provided for those who preferred a simple dinner.

Other attendees included School Committee members Fred Fantini, Caroline Hunter, Jose Luis Rojas, David Weinstein, Rachel Weinstein (no relation) and Ayesha Wilson, and city councillors Alanna Mallon and Burhan Azeem.

State Reps. Marjorie Decker and Steve Owens also attended.

The event was held in partnership by the Islamic Society of Boston, The City of Cambridge Employee Committee on Diversity, the Office of Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, the Muslim Community of Cambridge Public Schools and Cambridge Public Schools.