ST. PETERSBURG — Bringing together a diverse group of Muslims and other faiths to break the fast on an evening in the holy month of Ramadan, the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association (TBAMA) held its second annual Iftar dinner May 30 at the historic Coliseum.
Iftar is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. The second meal of the day, the daily fast during Ramadan begins immediately after the pre-dawn meal of Suhur and continues during the daylight hours, ending with sunset with the evening meal of Iftar.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (Sawm). Muslims fast as an act of worship, a chance to get closer to God and a way to become more compassionate to those in need.
TBAMA uses the Iftar dinner to bring together members of all faiths to open their arms and embrace their fellow human beings.
“Right now, find a way to strengthen your interfaith relationships,” said Hassan Shibly, civil rights attorney and chief executive director of CAIR – Florida. “Find a way to strengthen your cultural relationships. Find a way to learn from somebody you don’t know, and then make a sincere commitment to serve humanity stronger.”
Keynote speaker Mayor Rick Kriseman noted that though Iftar is the main meal of the fasting day occurring at sunset each evening of Ramadan, the evening’s event was about more than that.
“Tonight, like last year’s event, is about fellowship,” said the mayor. “It’s about conversation and learning because we know that knowledge is power and that ignorance breeds fear and prejudice.”
People throughout Tampa Bay, throughout the state, the country and even the world are taking note of what’s happening here, the mayor said, explaining that St. Pete is a city that celebrates diversity.
In April, Kriseman was part of a delegation of U. S. mayors that visited Morocco for the opportunity to meet with elected officials, including the mayors of Rabat and Marrakesh.
“We discussed our common challenges and innovative ways to address them,” he said, adding that the king of the Muslim country’s inclusive practices and vision for Morocco was much like ours here in St. Pete.
Morocco has been ranked as one of the most peaceful nations in Africa and in the Middle East, Kriseman pointed out, as a “message of peace was seen and heard throughout our stay.”
Peace, he told those on hand, is one of the literal meanings of Islam and it is the aim of Muslims.
“You don’t need to read the Koran to know that,” Kriseman said. “You just need to shake a Muslim’s hand and listen and learn. It’s that simple. My wife and I had the privilege of doing that in Morocco, but it can be done right here at home in our diverse St. Petersburg.”
Offering the official welcome, Abdul Karim Ali, chairman of TBAMA said that the event is a component of the city’s diverse identity.
“We want everyone to know that this will become — is — a part of our city,” he said. “Iftar dinner is a part of the city of St. Petersburg.”
Rev. Doral Pulley with Interfaith Tampa Bay recognized all of the religious, spiritual and faith leaders from various faith traditions who gathered in support of the Iftar dinner.
“Let’s recognize our unity, our solidarity; the way to come together this evening for a common purpose and for a common goal,” he said.
Martha Nailah Williams, founder and director of the KNOW ME / no me Ins-Stitute spoke on the evening’s theme of compassion, courage and appreciation.
“And this is how we are able to be or show compassion,” she said. “What is compassion? I would love to say that is it included in the womb of mercy.”
Williams noted that people should not get overindulged in the event itself, more so than they should be involved in the “life that comes after this.”
“Our collectiveness here tonight is a beautiful gathering.” she said, “but then the work that we all are doing I’m sure, wherever we are, whatever course we are involved in, it is important, and it does feed to tomorrow. So then there’s another prayer that we ask the Almighty. To show mercy upon us that we may be remembered for years to come.”
We must have the courage to stand for what is right, she urged while underscoring that the fact that everyone gathered that evening speaks to an appreciation.
“Our being here tonight has increased the ability to know that number one: We’re human; number two: We all have the same needs; number three: We’re all going to strive with our utmost to do that which is right and number four: We’re going to know when we need to take a stand. So those words: compassion, courage, appreciation. We are better together than we are apart.”