Three Faiths Iftar 2023
Just before sunset on Sunday 16th April, BPS opened its doors for a unique ‘Three Faiths Iftar’ (the meal breaking the Ramadan fast each day). Drawing on the Passover refugee story, we welcomed Jews, Muslims, Christians, refugees and asylum seekers living in hotels and temporary accommodation around the city. The synagogue was alive with nearly 100 people, marking the rare coinciding of Ramadan, Passover and Easter – the last time this will happen for 33 years.
Synagogue President Val Harrison opened the evening, with a message of support from Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, ‘from my family to yours’. Then we heard a series of speakers:
- Cedric, a refugee who shared his experience of the UK asylum system;
- Abi Martin of St Chad’s Sanctuary, a Christian charity which provides support to over 150 asylum seekers in Birmingham every week
- Muna, a 13-year-old Muslim from Al-Abbas Clifton Road Mosque, who spoke powerfully about all three Abrahamic faiths’ call to support the vulnerable
- BPS member Tommer Spence showed Pesach foods symbolising the Jewish refugee experience in ancient times and throughout our history.
At sunset, we all joined Muslims breaking their fast at sunset with traditional dates – and with less traditional date charoseth on matzah! Then after Muslim prayers, we shared a delicious Iftar meal, with vegetarian food from a Syrian refugee-run catering company, alongside dishes contributed by BPS members, the mosque and other guests.
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky, the synagogue’s visiting rabbi, said:
“Pesach is the ancient Jewish festival in which we celebrate our own freedom and resolve to work for others to live free and fully realised lives. Easter for Christians represents new life and the possibility of miraculous new beginnings. And Ramadan, which is a time of spiritual renewal, is a chance to look inward and find new ways to heal our broken world. I'm very grateful to the members of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue who dreamed up this remarkable gathering and made it possible.”
We had really positive responses from many participants, including Dr Ibrahim Varsani, a Muslim community leader, who said:
“I would like to express my sincere thanks to Birmingham Progressive Synagogue for hosting us. It was a deeply moving and spiritually uplifting experience for me to see such amiable hospitality, generosity and kindness. I hope and pray that this effort blossoms to benefit ourselves spiritually and our wider community in Birmingham.”
The Iftar was an absolutely splendid occasion. A considerable number of people – Muslims, Christians and Jews – told me how much they had enjoyed the evening. They were delighted with the welcome, the arrangements in the sanctuary, the cultural sensitivity shown and the food. Thanks to energetic teamwork by BPS members young and old which made everything run smoothly. Here are some other comments:
“I am from Afghanistan. I am currently an asylum seeker. We really enjoyed your Iftar. People gave us a lot of love and delicious meals, and we brought some food home with us.”
“It was beautiful. Thank you so so much. What an experience… to pray salah (Muslim prayer) at a synagogue.”
“A truly wonderful and warm welcome… a beautiful coming together and sharing of what can only be described as a uniquely Birmingham experience.”
It's fair to say that we have started something important. Many have expressed the hope that this will not be a one-off event. There was a real buzz about the building and we have done a lot for interfaith relationships.
Val Harrison, BPS President
The Iftar was organised by BPS in partnership with the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, the Birmingham Council of Christians and Jews, and the Church at Carrs Lane, along with a number of local charities working with asylum seekers. We are grateful for funding from the United Reformed Church interfaith fund, Birmingham Near Neighbours and CCJ.