Muslims and Christians join iftar parties to promote harmony during the Islamic holy month
Muslims join a prayer meeting in Gazipur district near Dhaka in 2015. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Shofiq Ahmed wished to buy a rich array of food items for his family of four for iftar (fast-breaking evening meal) during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that started in early April.
Spiraling prices of daily commodities thanks to high inflation, impacts of war in Ukraine and market manipulation by unscrupulous business syndicates dashed his hopes.
“I wanted to buy eggs, fish and meat for the family like previous Ramadans, but I cannot. Due to price hikes, I can only afford eggs, not fish or meat anymore,” Ahmed, 45, a father of two, told UCA News.
The Muslim man runs a small tea stall in Manikganj town of central Bangladesh, about 60 kilometers north of capital Dhaka. He is the only breadwinner for the family and the stall is his only source of livelihood.
From morning to midnight, Ahmed keeps the stall open, selling tea and snacks including cookies to customers, mostly Muslims and some Hindus. He can earn about 300 taka (US$3.50) per day.
Due to the month of fasting, his customers have dropped in a town where Muslims comprise 90 percent of the population. Despite religious restrictions, he has kept his stall open during Ramadan as he has no other income.
“Before the pandemic I could earn 500 taka each day, but it has dropped to 300 taka today. Moreover, the cost of living has increased. Every day I have to spend 90 taka for rice alone and nothing is left after daily expenses”
In fact, Ahmed had hard times during Covid-19 and lengthy lockdowns in the past two years, forcing him to close the stall. He had to spend all his savings amid the loss of income.
“Before the pandemic I could earn 500 taka each day, but it has dropped to 300 taka today. Moreover, the cost of living has increased. Every day I have to spend 90 taka for rice alone and nothing is left after daily expenses,” he lamented.
As of now, beef sells for 650-700 taka per kilogram, chicken for 200 taka per kg, most fish for 200 taka and one dozen eggs for 110 taka.
“Eggs are our last resort but we have managed to have eggs on only two days since Ramadan started,” Ahmed said, adding that he gets upset every time he goes to the market to buy daily essentials.
Despite these sorry circumstances, Ahmed says he will save some money and buy new clothes for his two children to cheer them during the Eid-al-Fitr festival.
Poor villagers like Ahmed have had some relief as the government has expanded Open Market Sales (OMS), a state-run subsidized food security scheme, in urban and rural areas in recent weeks. Over the past week, Ahmed has been buying daily essentials like rice, lentils, flour and oil from an OMS point in his town.
Moreover, a local voluntary organization has been arranging iftar packets for dozens of poor people, so he also collects an iftar packet, though paltry, for his children every evening.
Like millions of Muslims around the globe, those in Bangladesh began fasting from April 3, the first day of Ramadan.
“I’m a Catholic but my Muslim colleagues always invite me to participate in their iftar party and I try to join them. It promotes friendship and brotherhood and eliminates divisions"
To adjust to Ramadan, the government has rescheduled working times for government, semi-government, autonomous and semi-autonomous offices from 9am to 3.30pm instead of the usual 10am to 6pm, with a 15-minute prayer break. Non-government organizations have also adjusted their schedules.
Efforts are made to make Ramadan and iftar occasions for promoting harmony and expressing concerns for the poor in the Muslim-majority country.
Catholic banker Pradeep Murmu said his colleagues have been inviting him to iftar meals every day even though he is not fasting.
“I’m a Catholic but my Muslim colleagues always invite me to participate in their iftar party and I try to join them. It promotes friendship and brotherhood and eliminates divisions,” Murmu, an ethnic Santal, told UCA News.
This year he has joined with his Muslim friends and contributed money for a community iftar.
Though Murmu is happy to share the Ramadan spirit with Muslims, he also feels uneasy to eat in front of Muslims when he is hungry. “We feel uncomfortable to eat in front of Muslim friends because this may break their fast,” said Murmu, who is based in capital Dhaka.
Christians make up less than half a percent of more than 160 million people in Bangladesh. Most of the estimated 600,000 Christians are Catholics.
“I know the Caritas NGO is working in Manikganj. I received some money and daily essentials from Caritas when I was struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Muslim man Ahmed said.
Ahead of the Eid festival, churches will send Eid greetings cards to government institutions and Islamic clerics, while the diocese will install banners in streets to greet Muslims during Eid
Apart from attending and hosting iftar parties, Christians take up various activities during Ramadan to express their respect for followers of Islam and to promote religious harmony, Catholic officials say.
Christian education institutes maintain a Ramadan schedule for the convenience of Muslim students, said Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.
He said the commission has publicized Ramadan messages from Pope Francis’ and commission president Archbishop Bejoy N. D’Cruze of Dhaka. Similarly, Eid messages from the pope and the local Church will be delivered before the festival.
Eight Catholic dioceses arrange one-day iftar parties attended by Islamic clerics and social and political leaders, the priest said.
However, Father Gomes said, there has been no custom of Sunday and weekday collections to provide iftar for poor Muslims like Ahmed, but individuals and groups arrange iftar meals for Muslims in their areas.
“Ramadan and iftar gatherings are great opportunities to promote interfaith dialogue,” Father Gomes, based in Rajshahi Diocese, told UCA News.
Ahead of the Eid festival, churches will send Eid greetings cards to government institutions and Islamic clerics, while the diocese will install banners in streets to greet Muslims during Eid, the priest added.
In Manikganj, tea seller Ahmed said he is glad to know Christians are joining Muslims to share the spirit of Ramadan. He thanked them for their generous acts. “This is really good. I appreciate it,” he said.
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