IC Mosque Holds Community Iftar

The fifth annual Iowa City Mosque Community Iftar took place Sunday night

Members of the community were invited to the Iowa City Islamic Mosque to fix themselves a plate and share in an iftar celebration on Sunday, June 10. The event was catered by the Tabooleh, a restaurant which describes itself as being “middle-eastern cuisine.”

The Iowa City Mosque’s Social Activities Committee is generally responsible for organizing events such as the Community Iftar, which is held in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Posters and emails were sent out in the Iowa City area in the week leading up to the event.

Iowa has long been a haven for American Muslims. The oldest living mosque built on United States soil, the Mother Mosque, is located in Cedar Rapids Iowa, where it has been stood 1934. The Muslim community in Iowa City has also had quite a long run.

“Some of the members of our community [have been] here 40 years,” Keita said.

While the presence of Muslims in Iowa may be nothing new, the Iowa City Mosque Community Iftar is a fairly recent development.

“From my recollection, we have been having it since 2013. It has always been successful and we have always had good attendance, especially with the city officials,” President of the Iowa City Mosque Executive Board, Ousainou Keita, said.

Keita, who is in charge of overseeing events such as Community Iftar, was disappointed by this year’s turnout.

“We were hoping to have a keynote speaker from out of town but that didn’t work out so we were waiting on that report so that we could coordinate it with the Community Iftar,” said Keita.“It’s very important as Muslims and as a religious minority group to engage with our community, that way we can build this relationship with them.”

During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from certain activities from sunrise to sunset, including eating and drinking. Iftar, an Arabic word meaning break fast, is a term used by Muslims to describe the time when the sun sets and they are able to break their fast by eating and drinking once again.

Past guests at the Community Iftar have included Mayor Jim Throgmorton of Iowa City, though this year, the mayor was unable to attend.

“Our effort is to reach out to the wider Iowa City community, our city officials and county officials especially,” said Keita. “As Muslims, we are commanded to reach out to our neighbors and we consider the community our neighbors.”

Ramadan, which lasts for 30 days, is the ninth month on the Islamic Calendar, which follows a lunar progression. It is also considered the holiest month of the year, similar to Lent on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. The end of the month is marked by the Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Fitr. This year, Eid Al-Fitr is projected to take place on this Friday, June 15. The practice of fasting (sowm in Arabic) during Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

“[Ramadan is] the month of fasting.These [last] few years it happens to fall in the middle of summer. Nevertheless, we are passionate and enthusiastic,” Keita said.

This year’s Iowa City Mosque Community Iftar took place just days after President Drumpf hosted the first official White House Iftar of his presidency on Wednesday, June 6th. Last year, Drumpf came under fire for failing to uphold the tradition of inviting Muslims into the White House for iftar.

According to Teen Vogue, the practice of the President of the United States having Iftar along with Muslims was initiated by Thomas Jefferson in 1805. President Clinton would later go on to establish the tradition of inviting Muslims for the annual White House Iftar Dinner during his presidency. A legacy which would continue until 2017, where it ended with Drumpf’s first year in office.

The Huffington Post and several critics have pointed out that while Drumpf may have decided to sponsor the iftar this year, unlike last year, many prominent American Muslim organizations failed to receive invitations to attend, despite having received invitations from past administrations. Contrastingly, many foreign diplomats from Muslim-majority countries received invitations. One group even protested by calling for a boycott of the White House Iftar and hosting their own across the street.

Things were not so contentious at the Iowa City Mosque on Sunday night. In fact, the evening passed by without excitement. Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and member of the Johnson County Interfaith Cluster (JCIC), Sam Massey, was in attendance. Keita, who is also a member of JCIC, personally invited him.

“I was aware that Ramadan was occurring and I’d heard of these final feasts but I’d never been invited to come to one,” said Massey. “I think it’s fabulous to have it and to invite the community to it.”

Massey believes that having opportunities for people of different faiths to interact is crucial “if we’re going to make progress and justice.”

“I think that Iowa City prides itself on being very progressive. I don’t know if that translates to creating friends of people who are different,” said Massey. “Everyone is allowed to live in peace in their community but they don’t really relate to each other. [It’s important that] they dine with each other, get to know each other, make friends.”

Luckily for Massey, the Iowa City Mosque Community Iftar does not appear to be disappearing any time soon.