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Maryam Abbas

Imagine; after a long day at work or university you’re sat under the stars with nothing but a tent above your head, an evening summer breeze blowing past whilst you take a sip of water and break bread with the stranger next to you. The call to prayer is sung, and everyone is stood up together, the banker, the doctor, the student, the teacher, the homeless, the rich, the poor, all side by side praying under the night sky, followed by a meal together in which you are sat amongst non Muslims and Muslims alike. Ramadan isn’t so much about what you eat, but it’s how you eat, something truly felt when attending the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP).

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The RTP is an idea developed by Omar Salha, who originally decided to hold a free open Iftar for students and colleagues who were away from their families. Being a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the time, it began near their campus in central London and a tent seemed like the best way to hold an Iftar in an open area with the ability to accommodate large numbers.

Quickly realising its potential as a great way to raise awareness about Ramadan and its importance to Muslims, it has also become a platform to connect Muslims and non Muslims through the sharing of a meal together. As one RTP representative that I spoke to states, “Ramadan is a time for service and charity, it’s an opportunity to reach out to the broader community, feed the homeless, and show others how Muslims live their faith through good deeds”. Two years on, it’s expanded to two more cities in the UK (Manchester and Plymouth) and across the world to Turkey and Zambia, and relocated to a larger area in London, further down the road in Malet Street Gardens.

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It is an interesting and popular concept with up to 400 people attending each night and has fed approximately 10,000 people since it began. Essentially a non-profit organisation, it relies on donations from the public to fund the iftars, which is why you won’t find the same meal being served any two days in succession. Any extra food is donated to local homeless shelters after the evening ends.

Moved by this idea, the winner of Masterchef 2012, Shelina Permalloo, volunteered to cook for the project last year. Who needs a 5* restaurant when you can get it here? And for free! And she’s not the only celebrity that the project has attracted. Last year political writer Mehdi Hasan attended as a speaker, as well as England hockey player Darren Cheesman. Dr Tariq Ramadan has recently been appointed as the official patron of the organisation, highlighting the support for the project from those at the forefront of interfaith dialogue and community cohesion.

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It’s a project that is certainly breaking boundaries. Heidi Green, the communication officer for the RTP says, “I personally had never met a Muslim or participated in Ramadan until meeting Omar Salha and other RTP volunteers in 2013 and it completely changed my life. I was moved by the Muslim students’ work, their kindness, patience and sincerity in teaching me and welcoming me into their community”. Which is why she has continued her work with them. This is just one of many stories of how the RTP has affected peoples lives, more of which can be found on their website.

With weather forecasts set to be good this summer, we can probably expect warm Ramadan nights, which are perfect to be spent under the night sky breaking our fast with others and to remind ourselves of the larger community we are part of. Ramadan is a time to reassess yourself and who knows, maybe your conversation with the stranger next to you is enough to change a thought, or maybe change a thought in you.

Images by Rooful Ali