It is said that the prophet Muhammad sought to engineer a society in ancient Medina where people of different races, religions and creeds would coexist harmoniously. More than 1,000 years later, this spirit is being kept alive by his followers.
The Darul Arqum Islamic Center invited nearly 300 people from all different faiths and backgrounds for an Iftar dinner in the Hansen Agricultural Center on June 7 at 8 p.m.
Iftar is part of Ramadan, a traditional month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Iftar is the meal where Muslims break their fast, and it is becoming an opportunity for Muslims to invite members of their community to mix and mingle in a warm, social setting.
Among those invited were people from the Ames Jewish Congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, First Methodist Church, the Church of Latter Day Saints and other religious groups.
“It’s a great thing,” said Muhammad Mohsin Raza, a graduate student in Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State. “We’re glad to be getting people from all around the community to know each other.”
Raza is the current president of the Pakistan Student Association. He and others began organizing the Iftar dinner a week ago.
“We had some help from Nicci Port at the Office for Diversity and Inclusion,” said Omer-Lebbe Shafraz, who recently received a doctorate in physics from Iowa State.
Shafraz explained how the idea sprouted from a group of Des Moines high school students who organized American Iftar dinners after the White House failed to host the annual Iftar dinner last year.
“Those kids deserve a lot of credit,” Shafraz said.
Organizers like Shafraz were surprised by the turnout, and they actually didn’t have enough chairs for everybody who showed. However, that didn’t stop everyone from enjoying multiple courses of homemade food.
“We had something like 15 families that cooked all this food,” said Mohammad Rashid, Iowa State alumnus and organizer of the Iftar dinner.
The food selection was as diverse as the guest list and offered everything from lamb curry to baked spaghetti.
“They really made some excellent food,” Rashid said.
Imam Mahjoob Jaily, Darul Arqum’s spiritual leader, gave a short speech to the audience. He thanked them all for their support of the Islamic Center and also said some words on their shared vision of a diverse and inclusive Ames.
“The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, told the people of Medina, ‘Oh mankind, know that you’re all from Adam and Eve.’” Jaily said. “This means nobody has superiority over another. That is the practice of Islam, and the prophet brought us together.”
Many of the guests had direct connections with the Islamic Center. Daishin McCabe, a Buddhist priest from Des Moines, teaches at Des Moines Area Community College. He met Darul Arqum’s Imam, Mahjoob Jaily, by bringing his students to the Islamic Center to learn about Islam.
“It’s a great experience to bring my world religions class to them,” McCabe said. “I’m glad to be able to do that.”
This Iftar dinner was the first of its kind for the Darul Arqum Islamic Center, and organizers felt it to be a success and look forward to hosting the event in the future.
“We certainly had more people show up than we thought would,” Raza said.
Some of the guests already had experience with Iftar before the dinner. Tom Andre with the Unitarian Universalists spent time in Turkey when he became a psychology professor at Iowa State.
“There was a program that sent us [professors] out to Turkey in 2007,” Andre said.
Andre explained how part of the program was a response to the stigmas surrounding Islam after 9/11.
“It was about breaking down those stereotypes,” Andre said. “It’s really special when people from different religions are so welcoming to each other. Events like this are extremely important because they focus on community.”