On April 1, more than 120 Muslims, Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Baháʼís, and people of all faiths and no faith, gathered for Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s seventh annual Ramadan Interfaith Iftar potluck dinner. We were delighted to come back fully in-person after two fully virtual iftar and last year’s COVID-safe smaller event.
Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice (WFVJ) is a statewide interfaith organization that works with clergy and congregations of all faiths to advocate for workers’ rights, voting rights, immigration justice, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, affordable housing, and public health. Foundational to our work is the ongoing endeavor to bring together people of different faiths to build bridges of mutual understanding, to celebrate our diversity, and to work together to make a more just and compassionate world.
In the wake of the 2016 election, during which the rhetoric was steeping in racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism, WFVJ brought together a group of clergy and activists and asked, “What is our role and responsibility as people of faith to counter these forces that seek to demonize and divide us?” Several new initiatives grew out of that conversation. One particular goal we identified was the need to create opportunities for people of different faiths to come together, learn about each other’s faiths, and get to know each other on a personal level. One such opportunity became our annual iftar.
Mary Strait, one of our amazing volunteer organizers, remembered, “In 2017, there was talk about requiring Muslims in the U.S. to carry ID cards identifying them by their faith. I originally signed on to help with the iftar because I wanted Madison’s Muslim community to know that there were non-Muslims they could trust.” Mary added, “Now, though, I love being able to work and converse with people of a variety of faiths. In some ways, I have more in common with all these people who live out their faith than other Christians who do not.”
Sadat Abiri, one of our fabulous partners from the Muslim community, noted, “The interfaith iftar is a great way of promoting relationships between different faiths. Learning about each other helps to promote mutual respect and friendship.”
Each year we plan a brief educational program to start off our event, keeping in mind those of our guests who have fasted all day and knowing we need to end in time for the break of the fast and the evening prayer. In years past, we have had a panel of different faith leaders speaking about fasting in their different traditions; we have asked lay people to share what the experience of fasting has meant to them, and we have had presentations on the Five Pillars of Islam, the meaning of Ramadan, and the value of zakat (charity). We also always include in our iftar a fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank, to honor zakat and to remember that there are those in our community whose fast is neither voluntary nor time limited.
After sunset, a leader from one of our local mosques leads the call to prayer and our Muslim siblings gather in a designated area for prayer.
After prayers, at last, we eat!
During the pandemic, we pivoted, as did everyone, and held two virtual iftar, primarily including educational webinars on Islam and Ramadan. Last year, we came back in person but kept it small and had it catered to be COVID-safe.
This year, we were excited to welcome all who wished to attend, and went back to our usual potluck meal, with some items donated from local restaurants and grocery stores. Our guests love to cook and to share their favorite recipes, and the food is always abundant and delicious!
The atmosphere at our iftar was joyful and celebratory. People met up with old friends, made new friends, and it was thrilling to be back together again in person. Our last iftar before the pandemic brought out over 300 people — we hope in the next few years we will build back up to that level of attendance, but those who attended this year had a wonderful time and are already looking forward to next year’s event!
Lillian Abrams, another of our tremendous organizers, remarked, “For me, being with people I knew, meeting new folks, and participating in the prayer service (even if I was only an observer) was the most meaningful experience of the evening. Hearing the call to prayer and having a written printout of the words to the prayer meant a great deal. I understood the prayer, including the devotion and gratitude expressed in praying to Allah (G-d). The physicality of the prayer and the sound of the words heightened my own feelings of gratitude and hope.”
When people quieted down and stopped their own conversations during the prayers, it added to the intensity and meaningfulness of our gathering. I very much felt that this was a group of people who wanted to share beliefs and get to know one another.”
Ramadan 2024 begins on March 10. No time to rest. We are off planning for another iftar!
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis is the founder and Executive Director of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and Chair of the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, as well as a member of the board of the NAACP of Dane County, and a founder and steering committee member for the Dane Sanctuary Coalition. Rabbi Margulis holds a Masters’ Degree in Judaic Studies from New York University, and was ordained at Hebrew Union College (HUC), Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1992. Rabbi Margulis served as the Director of Clergy Programming for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice from 1996 to 2008.