Acts of generosity have become a defining feature of Ramadan in Canada, where campaigns have been launched to invite neighbors to share Ramadan iftar with Muslim families across Greater Toronto Area.
“It’s a tradition in Ramadan for Muslim families to host other families or people,” Olcay Seki said in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning on Sunday, June 12.
“But I never really felt the need to invite people over because I was fasting.”
Hospitality to one’s neighbors is fast becoming another unique aspect of the Canadian Ramadan experience.
Seki, a Muslim of Turkish origin, said he has been marking Ramadan alone with his family.
This has changed since the inception of project “Meet your Neighbor” in 2012.
The project coincides with the start of Ramadan, the famous month-long fast of Islam during which Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk.
In addition to fasting, Ramadan is also a month of increased worship, special prayers, and recitation of the Qur’an.
Seki got involved with the project four years ago and says it’s changed the way the father of three looks at how the experience of Ramadan can be shared.
“I thought in Turkey that Ramadan was for Muslims only, but then I came to realize the more time I spent with different guests at my house, Ramadan is actually very Canadian in a sense, very universal,” Seki said.
Now, the family hosts 15 guests at his house during the month of Ramadan to take part in the Iftar.
For neighbors, the iftar offered them an opportunity to get closer to Muslims and Islamic culture.
“I’m always very interested in world religion,” Lily Leung, a Catholic pastry chef living in Toronto, said.
“I find it very interesting and as they invite me, I get to know more about food and through food I know more about the culture and the people.”
Though the experience of sharing a meal with strangers can start off somewhat awkwardly, but it’s always rewarding in the end, he said.
“Not only my guests learn from our culture and how we observe Ramadan. I get to learn a lot from them too,” Seki said.
“It’s a really nice experience, although you don’t know the people that you’re hosting,” he said, adding that his children are often the first to break the ice.
The ‘Meet Your Neighbor’ project aims to “build bridges between communities” and help people experience other cultures, according to its website.