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Here's what happened at St. Petersburg's Iftar dinner

By Amy Katsouris, For Creative Loafing , On 04 June 2018, Read Original

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800 people celebrated Ramadan, led by local faith leaders and joined by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

May and June are times of transition for most Floridians, as school ends and we adjust to the summer heat. But this time of year has a special significance for Bay Area Muslims as they celebrate Ramadan — from May 15 to June 14. Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and healthy adult Muslims are expected to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset. This is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. 

St. Petersburg recently shone a spotlight on Ramadan and the Bay Area’s growing Islamic community with the second annual Tampa Bay Muslim Association’s Iftar Dinner on May 30 at the Coliseum (“Iftar” referring to the meal that traditionally ends the Ramadan fast at sunset). The event, which welcomed everyone, included almost 30 leaders from various faiths and prominent community leaders as guests, like Bay News 9 anchorman Al Ruechel and keynote speaker, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The free event attracted some 800 guests, a mixture of Muslims from organizations like the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and non-Muslims. For many, the dinner was their first introduction to the concept of Ramadan. Most of the guests at my table had never heard of Ramadan before, with the exception of one knowledgeable middle-school boy. 

Participants from the Islamic community were happy to share their experience of this sacred tradition with others. One young volunteer named Aya mentioned how she found Ramadan a “time to find who you really are and to find peace and happiness.” The Chair of the Iftar Committee, Abdul Karim Ali, said, “fasting is not just for Muslims but for people of faith, as it helps us to become closer to our Lord Creator and work to better our world… to know that we are one human family and should not be fighting each other.”

Certain topics cropped up repeatedly among the guest speakers, although the dinner's official theme was “Compassion, Courage, and Appreciation.” Presenters emphasized the need to stand up for their beliefs, and the compassionate nature of God. Hassan Shibly said that traditionally Muslims felt that fasting was not accepted if the hungry were not fed and that Ramadan was a time to empty hearts of evil and malice and fill them with love towards others.

Guest speakers urged coming together as Americans to promote a diverse and knowledgeable community. 

The current divisive political and social climate towards Muslims was referred to both subtly and overtly. Abdul Karim Ali emphasized that the organizers wanted to show the reality of who Muslims were and that, “I am an American citizen and proud of it. I want to work to make the city better.” The dinner included the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin asked the question, “Why not learn more, lead more, and love more? Why not make inclusivity and progress the defining traits of our community?”