Reflections from a Chinese-Jewish American on Interfaith Dialogue

Julia Malleck

I grew up in a household of mixed identities and cultures.  My mother was born and raised in Taiwan, her mother and father leaving China shortly before the Communist Revolution.  My father grew up in New York in a Jewish household, his parents being the children of Ashkenazi immigrants. Because of my mixed upbringing, my identity has been defined by a constant negotiation between cultures, and also a curiosity as to how people practice faith and seek spirituality.

Going to Ramadan Tent has been an important experience for me on many levels—as a girl who grew up in a mixed household, a Jewish household, who grew up in post-9/11 New York City, and more broadly as an American citizen raised in a period of intense Islamophobia.

Interfaith dialogue is desperately needed and in short supply.  Of course, dialogue can be facilitated in formal settings: around a conference table, on a stage, or from behind a podium.  Ramadan Tent provides something unique—a forum where all these trappings are stripped away.  Each night in Malet Street Gardens feels like the first day of summer camp.  The energy is palpable.  People are gathered shoulder-to-shoulder under the canopy, cast in the same purplish light, sitting criss-cross on the ground and picking bits of grass off their shins.

I was reminded that interfaith dialogue is rooted in interpersonal connections—with friendship.  Lasting and meaningful exchange doesn’t begin on a dais or with a speech.  It begins with a hello, giving your name, offering a piece of bread.  It stays with you because of the words you shared.  The spirit of Ramadan Tent lies in its ability to knit together interfaith and interpersonal connections.  If there’s anything my Jewish-Chinese upbringing has taught me, it is that sharing food is a simple act with powerful implications.

Each night I went to Ramadan Tent I met people from different backgrounds—a Somalian asylum-seeker, a student from the UK with Syrian heritage, a Palestinian woman from Jerusalem—and no matter how brief the conversation was, I left feeling that it had been a meaningful encounter.  For me the experience was one of unlearning one-sided narratives and relearning nuanced ones.  I think the U.S. would greatly benefit from having a project like Ramadan Tent in one of its cities.  We have a lot of unlearning to do.

Thoughts of a Young Woman From the Levant

RTP Volunteer

When I first heard about Ramadan Tent Project’s Open Iftar, I really did not know what to expect. I thought, let me go find out what it is! There I found out the importance of RTP in fomenting inter-faith dialogue and solidarity. This project is extremely pioneering. One of its most benevolent aims is bridging positive relations between different religious groups through the celebration of the divine festivity that is the holy month of Ramadan, and inviting people to share the values together in peace. Interfaith dialogue is a pressing issue that RTP has positively acted upon.

As a young Lebanese woman from a Christian background, I believe that if RTP were to take place across the entire Levant, people would become immediately closer, especially younger generation which shares a common desire to bridge religious and political differences. This can only be achieved through sharing and communicating between each other. RTP provides those who attend with the chance to step into a space where you can share and meet with people, but also a space where you can learn and act upon challenges facing young communities from different nationalities and faiths. In a world where we are told that religion is the source of division, RTP is an example and reminder that coming together under a universal cause, that is the pursuit of good, is what is uniting more and more people around the world. I encourage people to take part and engage with interfaith dialogue and solidarity to ensure better understanding and a better society for the future.

From the Streets to the Garden: A Tale of Two Brothers

Last summer I was sitting on a bench outside SOAS thinking what went wrong? After we finished university, my best friend and I had dreams of achieving greatness and rewarding our families for all their patience and sacrifice. However, like many other instances in life, the day after was not as expected. Before I knew it, I found myself deported from the United States, harassed in my home country and unable to speak to my own hospitalized mother abroad, so with no hope left, I pondered in despair.

Without a home, money and the slightest idea about how I was going to be able to fast during the most important Islamic month of the year, Ramadan, in my first summer in the UK, I was waiting for some divine guidance, no matter how small, so as to revive my spirits in a particularly point in my life. I waited. I walked around, came back, looked up to the sky and still there was nothing.

As I was about to get up and leave, the sign I was waiting for came and I hadn’t even realized it. Then a classmate and acquaintance, an RTP committee member walked up to me and asked me: ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘nothing just trying to sort out my life’. He smiled and replied: ‘Come and join us for Ramadan we volunteer everyday here and you can come and feel the good vibes with us […] trust me you will love it!’ With nothing better to do that day I said :I’m in!

After trying to convince my friend all night, we finally made it to the Ramadan Tent Project’s garden, for their ‘Open Iftar’. We rationalized that one day – a week maximum – would be enough so that we could at least tell ourselves ‘you know what, at least you did something good during Ramadan!’ Little did we know that from that day onwards both our lives would change forever. We gained far more than your typical volunteering experience. By the end of the month we both had a job, a roof over our heads and, more importantly, we had rediscovered our identity. Two young men on the verge of giving up had managed within a month to achieve more than we had done all year.

Coming to measure our feats and success in this project is truly unquantifiable. It is not praise, a 5-minute TV interview or any kind of special recognition that matters; after all, we were just security guards in a distinctly safe environment! Rather, it was those little moments, memories, friendships, love and charity which came to distinguish this experience from any other we had experiences. Here, at the Tent, we all stood as volunteers together, through the goods times and the challenging. There is no difference between colours or races or any other category which has been used to divide so many people: A real taste of communal life in the heart of London. For us, it was a slice of paradise on earth. And after a remarkable year full of challenges, achievements and more, we are both truly proud to be RTP volunteers, ambassadors of our beautiful faith and to have met such generous and hospitable people that went out of their way to help us both.

Today, sitting on the same bench where this story all began, I would suggest that if you are looking for a friend, a nice conversation, a charitable deed, a lesson in humility or a model for leadership then come join us at Ramadan Tent Project’s Open Iftar this year! You might not find us at the door with fluorescent jackets, but you will definitely find us somewhere amongst the hundreds of strangers, volunteers and guests breaking fast together in the spirit of compassion and peace. A true blessing that everyone should experience to see what is not shown on TV, what is not heard on the radio and what is not written in newspapers, what Islam, Muslims and Ramadan are really about.

A Volunteer’s Experience

by Samra Said

          When a secret gem like London Malet Street Gardens hosts Ramadan tent project, you know most immediately that ihsan is defined in this magical partnership.
          I arrived to first night of Ramadan to be welcomed by familiar faces from 2013, to energised newbie where our new home for the next 30 nights embraced us by it’s green oasis. Amir and Ruman the volunteers coordinators with their sense of humour, sincere approach and enthusiasm break the ice by throwing a joke here and there, where instantly you feel the warmth this sanctuary garden brings to your soul.
          The tasks are all divided equally between all the volunteers, and we work in such great team spirit that penguin may learn a thing or two from us. We have made it all look so easy, that when our guests come Iftar with us, it seems it all happened by chance. The guests are greeted with smile that says more than what words could convey. They sit on the banquet roll that we have previously carefully with numerous trial and error resized, layed out and securely sealtaped so it doesn’t fly along the birds who are marching home as sunset approaches.
          With 9 days to go until Ramadan becomes a joyful guests amongst us, Ramadan tent will be charity as usual welcoming the old and the new, Tony and his co, Dania and her traditional espresso,  guest speakers, ambassadors, interfaith leaders, and that lecturer across the garden that this year may be the year she gets a chance to share a meal with people united upon common goals.
          Whatever you decide to add to your wish or dua list for this Ramadan, make sure you visit to share a meal with us.

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