With many events and gatherings for 2021 being postponed we caught up with Omar Salha, Founder and CEO of the Ramadan Tent Project to learn more about his organisation and how they will be observing Ramadan this year with many lockdown restrictions still in place.
What is your organisation called and what does it do?
Ramadan Tent Project (RTP) is a non-profit organisation founded in 2013 with a mission of bringing communities together to better understand each other. We also organise the UK’s largest community and cultural event in Ramadan, Open Iftar.
Ramadan in 2021 will follow a very similar format to last year’s Ramadan during lockdown. We will be delivering a Virtual Open Iftar each evening of Ramadan for 30 days and will also bring back the My Open Iftar packs for the second consecutive year.
Ramadan Tent Project welcomes people of all faiths and none to share in the festivities and celebrations of Ramadan to mark this holiest month in the Islamic calendar. To date, over 200,000 people have joined our events both physically and virtually from across the globe, including events at Wembley Stadium, The British Library, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square and of course Regent’s Place!
Can you tell us some key facts about Ramadan?
- Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. It is the month which Allah Almighty first revealed the Holy Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings be upon him) through Angel Gabriel.
- Muslims are commanded to fast the whole month of Ramadan, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk.
- The purpose of fasting the month of Ramadan is to attain a higher level of consciousness of our environment (people and nature), of God (our Creator and Sustainer) and gratitude for what we have been given. It is a process and journey towards obtaining mindfulness.
- Fasting Ramadan is the 4th pillar of Islam. The 5 pillars of Islam are: Shahada (declaration of faith), Salah (praying 5 times a day), Zakat (donating 2.5% of your wealth to charity annually), Sawm (fasting the month of Ramadan) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).
- Irrespective of social class, wealth status or religiosity, all Muslims are commanded to fast the month of Ramadan as a form of justice and equity. Special dispensations are made to those who are ill, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, travelling and for the young and elderly.
- On a typical day of fasting, a Muslim wakes up before dawn to eat until Fajr (the first of the 5 daily prayers). This pre- dawn meal is known as Suhoor. A Muslim is prohibited from from consuming any food & drink, or engage in intimate relations following the Fajr prayer.
- The appropriate greeting to a Muslim who is observing Ramadan is 'Ramadan Kareem' or 'Ramadan Mubarak' which translates as Happy/Blessed Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is expected to fall between April 13th-May 12th 2021. Subject to the lunar calendar and sighting of the moon.
What are the best ways to support friends and colleagues observing Ramadan?
The Ramadan fast is an exercise in humility. Fasting makes us experientially aware of hunger, day after day. We have to practice patience with ourselves but there is also something innately communal about it. If a non-Muslim chooses to fast in Ramadan their commitment to peace and understanding co-existence with Muslims is not just a theory! Likewise, Muslims who help facilitate the fast of a non-Muslim is sharing from the most core aspects of their faith with their neighbours. This is not a good deed, rather, this is a responsibility!
Gift some dates to your Muslim colleagues. Try to experience fasting for a day! Be courteous and empathetic. If you have a friend or a colleague who is fasting, be mindful they may be low on energy. Do not take it personal! Fasting 19 hours is not easy. Most will be up late until the early hours of the morning praying and waking up for breakfast.
What is your organisation’s relationship with Regent’s Place?
Our first event held in partnership with British Land was at Regent’s Place in 2019. It was an amazing milestone to work alongside the local community and bring together people from all walks of life to celebrate the month of Ramadan in an otherwise unfamiliar location for such a gathering. It proved to reinvent the space in a more communal light and brought people together who may not have had the chance to do so for Ramadan under such a setting at Regent’s Place.
Please can you describe something that you’ve learnt or that has surprised you during the COVID-19 crisis, if anything?
To sum up in one word simply, pivoting!
With every challenge therein lies an opportunity. Going back to the drawing board and thinking innovatively and creatively about how we can continue to fulfil our mandate of bringing communities together to better understand each other at such a short space of time with increasingly limited resources was evidently a massive learning experience.
What are your hopes for future Open Iftars?
We hope to deliver the UK’s largest community and cultural event in Ramadan with more iconic venues and landmark locations as part of our Open Iftar calendar for Ramadan 2022. In addition to expanding to more cities across the UK.