The "Ramadan Tent Project," which was first launched in London, gets ready to offer meals in five different countries to foster interfaith dialogue during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The project attracted international attention in 2011, when a group of students from London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) set up a small tent in the university’s garden and invited passerby's to join them for Iftar--the breaking of the fast.
Muslims around the world, who fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, believe it’s the month of reflecting, sharing and family.
But, the Ramadan Tent Project’s volunteers, including ones who are not Muslim, say the project is more than just sharing food with homeless or people away from home and it’s definitely not about converting people to Islam.
The volunteers say, it is about bringing people together from different backgrounds, religions and lifestyles.
The tents, in recent years have hosted many guest speakers, including London Rabbi Natan Levy and British journalist, Mehdi Hasan.
Dr Tariq Ramadan, the Ramadan Tents patron and a world-renowned academic, thinker and public intellectual has said that the 'Open Iftar' is aimed at resisting the consumerist society and individualism while doing something good for Muslims and non-Muslims by showing the right way of dealing with human responsibility.
Now operating in London, Manchester, Plymouth, Ndola, Toronto, Portland and Istanbul the project has become an official non-profit organisation and is aiming to expand its activities in future.
TRT World spoke with the Ramadan Tent Project's Head of Communications, Ahmed Ghoneim to learn details on the initiative.
TRT World: Can you tell us about the Ramadan Tent Project?
Ahmed Ghoneim: The Ramadan Tent Project was founded by Omar Salha with four pillars, and the first pillar was to help international students in universities who are fasting away from their families.
And the second pillar was catering to the homeless, who are those in need, who don’t have food and shelter or water, perhaps even in and outside of the Ramadan.
And the third was to combat and resist stereotypes of Islamophobia in an inclusive manner.
And finally the most important pillar is interfaith dialogue to create dialogue between communities. Especially during those days of conflict, we are trying to close the gaps, focus on similarities and work on tolerance.
TRT World: You said the project has an interfaith mission. Do non-Muslims also show up at the tents and do you think the project is working well when it comes to breaking stereotypes?
Ghoneim: We have a quite sizable number of non-Muslims attending our event. They listen to the speaker and also ask questions about Islam. Which is great because this project isn't built only for Muslims. It was built to create a wider community and diverse landscape. And I believe it is combating stereotypes by not forcing to change ideas but leading by example. It provides much more understanding of who Muslims are. It is also the case for non-Muslims.
TRT World: How does the organisation of the project work?
Ghoneim: We have a founder and a committee. I’m head of communications. There are other people dealing with all the other departments. And we also volunteer along other volunteers who work at night to set up the tents, food and prayer area.
TRT World: The project went international quite quickly. How did that happen?
Ghoneim: This project travels because of its volunteers. For example in Zambia, the tent was opened by Alia Malik, a volunteer who volunteered in London in 2013. There are many people who want to take the project to their own locality, and the general interest of the project is to make it applicable all over the world, but our focus is not simply expanding, but rather to carry the spirit of London while protecting the message.
TRT World: What kind of a movement will it be in the future?
Ghoneim: I would say we are becoming a student initiative that has more structure and professionals and in the future, we can be more and more like an international charity. Looking towards to future I would say perhaps we might also expand the Ramadan Tent outside of the month of Ramadan by introducing different sorts of programmes in education, health, sports and so on.
TRT World: How many guests do you expect to host this year?
Ghoneim: We host two hundred or three hundred guests per evening and the number increases on busy days.
TRT World: Who is funding the project?
Ghoneim: We did a crowd-funding. This is the number one. And also SOAS helps us to use their an online platform to do this crowd-funding. I believe last year we raised ten thousand pounds and this year we hope to raise twenty. We also have some generous donors and organisations that are interested in funding us. This year Human Appeal kindly offered its funding.
Author: Bilge Nesibe Kotan