Observing Ramadan: Local iftar dinners in Kingston 

This year spring and Easter holidays coincide with the culmination of the month of Ramadan on Eid al-Fitr.  

Al-Fitr in Arabic is a derivative of the word ‘iftar’ which means the breaking of the fast. The month of Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslim communities to get together in the evenings to pray and break the day-long fast at iftar dinners.   

The tradition is continued by communities in Kingston-upon-Thames giving locals an opportunity to meet-and-greet each other and foster a sense of community and bonding.  

Kingston Muslim Association  

The Kingston Muslim Association at night in Kingston-upon-Thames. Credit: Moiz Saifuddin

Badar Butt, operations officer at the Kingston Muslim Association (KMA) on East Road said the centre has been serving iftar dinners for the past 35 years.  

KMA hosts around 110 people daily who live or work in and around Kingston.  

Abdulrehman Khan is a delivery driver who works in Kingston. He said last year he broke his fasts at home, but this year he has been coming to the KMA.  

“This year I am coming here, and they are doing very well,” he said.  

Khan said the fact that the organisation provided food and a space to have away from work was “an important thing” for him.  

Mohammed Taher is a 21-year-old student on a placement year working as an engineering manager in Walton.  

He said that breaking the fast in a gathering rather than home is an incentive to “learn about new people and new cultures”. 

He has only been going to KMA for three days but has already bonded with a few people including a friend from Chad. 

Taher said fasting does not just mean physically abstaining from food and water but goes “a lot deeper than that”. 

“If you can abstain from the two most basic necessities, then it shows that you can abstain from other vices. So, it teaches you self-control and at the end of it you become a lot more disciplined,” he said. 

Surrey Islamic Centre  

Dates and other sweetmeats are served to attendees at Surrey Islamic Centre. Credit: Moiz Saifuddin

The Surrey Islamic Centre near Norbiton station is another community hub for iftar gatherings. 

Saif Sharifi, a volunteer said: “We started this gathering more than 15 years ago. Initially we used to hire halls where we got only a few families until we got a place about eight years ago.” 

The centre moved from that space to its current location two years ago. 

Sharifi said that they have warm and cordial relations with local communities because “we have an open dialogue. So, people don’t feel alienated”. 

The iftar menu is a celebration of middle eastern cuisine which include starters such as baklavas and date-based sweets and main course dishes including lentil soup and chicken-rice. The meals are financed on voluntary contributions where families pick a night on rota or with the contributions from a community pot. 

Dr Sarah Mahdi, a GP, and a mother of three, has been a driving force behind the activities at the centre. 

“It’s always been my passion to have something for the community here. And I think that’s what really drives me to organise events and things because as a child growing up here, I felt like there wasn’t enough to cater for our community. And that always upset me. And so that drove me to try and start organising events,” she said. 

Mahdi said organising the event is a complete volunteer effort where they are all “like one little family and work together and help each other out”. 

She said that even though it is exhausting trying to manage the venue, catering and speaking opportunities, it was the best time of the year for them and something they looked forward to. 

The centre commences iftar gatherings in the second half of the month. Mahdi said this is for attendees to have a time of the month to dedicate to families and friends and then dedicate the second half to the centre.  

She said that though Ramadan was the busiest time of the year, the centre hosts regular activities throughout the year.  

“We do lots of youth events like Friday nights. Sometimes they come here to play games and it’s something to bring them together in a safe space to hang out and socialise with like-minded people,” she said. 

Dialogue Society  

The event saw the convergence of inter-faith groups to share iftar. Credit: John Sari

The Dialogue Society is a charity organisation that works to promote social cohesion in society. 

The Kingston branch of the society has been organising iftar events for the past three years where approximately 150 people participate each year.  

“We have a theme every year in these iftar organisations, and this year’s theme was peace and unity. 

“Our overarching goal is to promote peace and unity within our diverse communities by the essence of Ramadan through this event,” said John Sari, a member of the Kingston branch. 

The event was attended by Mayor Diane White among other religious leaders at Guildhall on March 22. 

“Attendees engaged in meaningful conversations with a diverse group of individuals, each offering unique insights on how to cultivate peace and unity in our communities. 

“Through these discussions, we aim to dispel misconceptions, forge enduring bonds, and collaboratively envision a more unified and inclusive future for all,” said Sari. 
The event was free, and donations will go to support charities including the Mayor’s Charity, Voices of Hope and Kingston Charitable Foundation.   

k2321421@kingston.ac.uk | + posts

Passionate about interviewing people to feature their stories and ideas. Currently Features Editor at Kingston Courier.

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