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Centered on compassion and justice, leaders hold interfaith dinners at mosques


With three major religious holidays - Ramadan, Passover and Easter - all converging in the same week, the leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were inspired to share their holiday celebrations with those of all beliefs in interfaith dinners at mosques across the country. The alignment of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian springtime holidays provided an opportunity for members of all three faiths to come together for a series of dinners and conversations focused on the theme of justice through compassion.

Harris Zafar is the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and pastor Kelvin Ward is an associate pastor with the Cathedral of Praise International Ministries in Southern California. Harris Zafar, Pastor Ward, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

HARRIS ZAFAR: Thank you so much for having me.

KELVIN WARD: Thank you for having me also.

MCCAMMON: So tell me about these interfaith dinners that are happening at this time that's holy for all three faiths. What prompted you to start hosting these interfaith meals?

ZAFAR: There was a realization that the three major religions in this country will be united at the same time. And so with all of the very strong relationships that we have with members of various communities and their organizations, we wanted to take this opportunity to have - to bring people of faith together. For quite some time, we had been discussing what we can do to address this strife, the bitterness, the persecution - and, of course, you know, epitomized by the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict, we thought this seems like the perfect opportunity for people of faith, in their spirit of spirituality and the season of spirituality, to come together and talk about compassion, but not compassion as an emotion, but more compassion that can result in action to help instill justice. And that's how we've centered around this theme of justice through compassion and invited people to join us as we celebrate this or discuss this idea through these interfaith dinners.

MCCAMMON: I want to talk about the food. Of course, each faith has different traditions surrounding their holidays and different rules around food, some of which are, seemingly at least, incompatible on the surface. What and also when do you eat to accommodate everybody's needs?

ZAFAR: Yeah. That's a - it's an interesting logistical challenge, especially given this time of year. Sunset is when Muslims do open their fast. And so sunset these days is a bit - it's a bit later. And so it's a bit later than a normal dinnertime would be. So we serve the refreshments to open the fast as well as the dinner - the meal afterwards - at sunset. I think, you know, there was a mixture - depending on which of the 34 cities you went to where we've held this event, there were some that served Indian or Pakistani food, you know, like curries and things like that. But there are other places where we served kosher food, some Mediterranean, you know, falafel-type food or just American food - pasta, wings and things to that effect - but making sure that we are at least incorporating things that are kosher, vegetarian, knowing that we can't necessarily accommodate all dietary restrictions, but at least trying to be as accommodating as possible.

MCCAMMON: Pastor Ward, why did you decide this was something you wanted to incorporate into your own observance of your Christian Holy Week?

WARD: It's a good question. I have a very good friend that I met probably about five years ago that attends the mosque where the Iftar was held by the Jamil Muhammad. And he invited me. And I've always been an engaging and very curious-minded person. So based upon that and my relationship with Brother Jamil, it was something that I wanted to see for the first time when I went several years ago and wanted to discover for myself. And I'm glad I did. And it's been a very long-lasting relationship that we've had and with the Muslim community. So that was my reasoning for going. And the food is awesome (laughter)

MCCAMMON: Will the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continue hosting these dinners going forward? And what might that look like?

ZAFAR: Absolutely. We see no need to put an end to this. We've believed that people of faith should be, for lack of a better term, first responders when it comes to dealing with matters of conflict, of adversity, much like our police force, our fire department are first responders for physical disasters when it comes to dealing with a lot of the strife and bitterness we see. And so we definitely want to continue to take that responsibility upon us.

MCCAMMON: Pastor, what I want to ask you quickly - Harris Zafar earlier talked about the moment that this is all happening, of course, against the backdrop of a third year of global pandemic, continued war in Ukraine and so much else. How do you think about these global events? How does that shape this observance for you?

WARD: Well, inviting other faith and other spiritual meanings into the space, to these Iftars, when we think about it, it's uncomfortable at times to stretch your hand across the proverbial aisle, as it were, and invite someone into your personal space, especially someone who doesn't look like you or may not have the same religious or spiritual leaning as you do. But at the end of the day, if we're not exemplifying and executing love, we're not going to be able to bridge. And we're not going to be able to be uncomfortable in doing the work that we need to do, and that is seeing that we're actually intentionally focused on making sure that we do have justice through compassion.

MCCAMMON: That was Pastor Kelvin Ward, associate pastor at Cathedral of Praise International Ministries, speaking to us from his home in Riverside, Calif., and Harris Zafar, national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who are hosting interfaith dinners at mosques across the country. Thank you both so much for being with us.

ZAFAR: Thank you for having us both.

WARD: Yes. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.