Interfaith Iftar: Ramadan Observed in Malibu

Prayers are said before iftar, the breaking of the fast.

With recent memories of deadly shootings at places of worship—Poway, Calif.; Christchurch, New Zealand; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Sutherland Springs, Texas and Indonesia—still painful to bear, a group of Malibu residents hosted a traditional iftar for Muslims, as well as some of their Jewish and Christian neighbors.

Iftar is the evening meal eaten by Muslims to break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

During the 30-day observance that occurs during the holiest month of the Muslim year, strict fasting is observed from before sunrise to just after sunset. Using a lunar calendar, Ramadan shifts back 11 days every year, so just how long that daily fast lasts depends on when Ramadan falls in the year and where one is located. In Southern California, for instance, this year’s observance means practicing Muslims have finished their morning meal by 4:30 a.m. and won’t eat again until roughly 8 p.m. after evening prayers. 

In a gesture of solidarity, members of various religious denominations in Malibu hosted an iftar, or break the fast, for fellow Muslims from Malibu and across the area.

This is the second year an interfaith iftar was celebrated in Malibu. St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church hosted last year. This past Tuesday evening, more than 100 people of all faiths gathered at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue with members of the Pacifica Institute, an LA-based nonprofit seeking to build bridges across religious and cultural divides.

Organizers politely asked that tables be shared by all faiths—or to “mix it up,” as it were—and everyone in attendance was more than happy to oblige and make friends with their seatmates for conversation and to ask questions.

Before the meal, blessings were given by four local religious leaders including Rabbi Michael Schwartz and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin of MJCS, Atilla Kahveci of Pacifica Institute and the Reverend Paul Elder of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. 

“We need to show not the differences between our faiths, but the way we can come together,” Elder commented. The deacon explained that, due to his extensive work helping the homeless in Malibu, “my basic theology is that there is only one God and God is not a Christian, which some people find difficult to understand, but God can’t be a Christian because if you believe that God created the world, then he created everything in it and everybody in it and therefore he loves us all. God is love and the more we can come together and understand the different faiths, the better the world will be. If we could only take what we’re doing here and put it on a worldwide basis or a national basis we could have much less conflict. These are my brothers and sisters, whether they’re Jewish, Muslim or whatever other religion you can think of. They’re my brothers and sisters and I love them.” 

A call to prayer in Arabic was then sung and partly translated as “God is great.” Many of the guests removed their shoes and continued prayers in prostration before the meal was served. 

Although he had not eaten for hours, one guest, Kahveci, had a sense of humor while explaining more about Ramadan. He pointed out that at his home in Century City, his morning meal had to be finished by 4:37, but that Malibu, being farther west, could have a little extra time. On a more serious note, he also explained that Muslims may be more observant and spiritual during Ramadan when the Islamic sacred book the Koran is read more frequently. Some use the time as a spiritual cleansing, as a time to renew or break bad habits. 

“We remind ourselves of the frailties we have—like the water,” he said. “Three years ago, there was a drought and we could do nothing but pray for rain. It is through this fasting we come to realize that there is somebody who provides for us from out there. We try to understand the answer to the questions: Where do we come from, why are we here and where are we heading?”

The topic of being visibly Muslim was discussed by 15-year-old Serra Demirci. The University High School student, who wears a hijab, or head scarf, said she at times fears violence or “hateful words” directed at her or others. When her imam reminded her there was security at her mosque, she said she felt safer. Demirci received applause after stating: “The Koran says that even if it is against yourself, parents or relatives, you should be defending justice, no matter what. God does not want hatred of others to lead you away from justice. I think we should all keep that in mind—to support each other and be a community.”

Another guest, Porter Ranch resident Muyesser Yilmaz, added, “It is an honor for us to be here.”