By Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM (CNS) — Marie Ingrand, 15, has lived in Jerusalem for two years with her family. Although in past years she has been invited to an iftar by a Muslim friend, this was the first time she was part of hosting such a meal.
“I am Christian and this allows us to be together and help each other,” Marie, a member of the French Scouts, told Catholic News Service as she helped serve an iftar April 9.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began April 1 and ends May 1 this year. During this month of reflection, prayer and community, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, eating a festive iftar with family and friends to break their fast in the evening.
The meal offered by Christian volunteers to Muslim neighbors at Abraham’s House on the eve of Palm Sunday served as testimony to the principles of peace and fraternity, said the event’s organizers. Abraham’s House offers a place to stay for visitors and pilgrims, particularly those with limited resources.
Offering the iftar “is giving testimony that the Christian community welcomes everybody here. The meal is the best way to share this,” said Bernard Thibaud, manager of Abraham’s House. “What can be better than, in these times of tension between communities and religions, to get people to meet.”
Located in the heart of the crowded, largely Muslim, East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods of Silwan and Ras El-Amud, Abraham’s House can serve as a bridge to the local community with its large and peaceful garden, said Thibaud.
“We can’t just sit here on this mountain when there are so many problems in our backyard,” Thibaud said. “Sharing a traditional meal is very powerful.”
He noted that while the residence normally joins the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in hosting an iftar for Muslim and Christian representatives — and will do so later in April — the meal April 9 was the first hosted for the neighboring community.
The iftar was offered in collaboration with the Althoure Silwan Women’s Center, the French Scouts and international volunteers from two French nongovernmental organizations.
Abeer Zayyad, a Muslim who is director of the women’s center, said she grew up in the Old City and attended a Christian school, but the younger generation has fewer opportunity to meet Christians in their daily lives, because many Christians have left the Old City. Events at Abraham’s House provide an opportunity for local Muslim Palestinians to come in contact with Christians, she said.
“With this generation, we are losing the identity of Jerusalem as a city,” said Zayyad, noting that a similarity can be drawn between Ramadan and Lent, with its own fasting tradition. “A Muslim iftar with priests serving the meal is a way to understand and recognize each other’s religion; to realize that Christians are not the enemy.”
Shireen Ashamr, 41, brought her five children to the iftar so they could have the experience meeting with Christians, she said, watching as her youngest, 7-year-old Nour, busily colored in a picture of an Easter egg at a table set up for the children before the meal.
As the sun set, the volunteers moved quickly among the tables with plates of rice and meat to serve the guests. Sitting down to eat, Mohammed Hadyeh, 14, admitted he had never met Christians before, although he had heard about Jesus, whom Muslims consider a prophet.
Benedictine Sister Elodie Bouda, originally from Burkina Faso, said that, having Muslim family members, it was only natural for her to be able to serve her Muslim neighbors.
“We are happy to see them here and very happy to volunteer to offer them this hospitality and iftar meal,” she said. “We want them to enjoy. This is very important for Muslims.”