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Birmingham Progressive hosts Friday Night Iftar for asylum seekers

Birmingham Progressive Synagogue hosted an interfaith ‘Friday Night Iftar’ – in partnership with a number of local mosques and community groups – to focus on bringing people together in Birmingham and welcoming asylum seekers to the city.

It combined a traditional Jewish Friday night dinner, to mark the start of Shabbat, with the Iftar meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan. More than 80 people attended, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and dozens of asylum seekers and refugees.

Birmingham Progressive Synagogue's Val Harrison with the Lord Mayor
Val Harrison of BPS with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham

The event was addressed by a number of prominent communal figures, including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Cllr Chaman Lal, who spoke of his pride at being the first Sikh Lord Mayor of Britain’s most diverse city.

Progressive Judaism Co-Lead Rabbi Charley Baginsky then spoke about the importance of interfaith work, especially in these difficult times.

Attendees also heard from Imam Qiyam Ud Din, from the nearby Adam Mosque, and Canon Andrew Smith, Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham. Messages of support were sent by the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and the synagogue’s local MP Shabana Mahmood.

The event included an inclusive Friday night candle-lighting to mark the beginning of Shabbat and then, after sunset, a breaking of the Ramadan fast with the traditional dates and water, as well as grape juice and challah.

Everyone then gathered for communal prayers in the synagogue’s sanctuary, before participating in a dua – a form of Islamic prayer – requesting an end to violence and suffering in the Middle East, which had been written for the evening.

Synagogue member Tommer Spence, who helped to organise the event, said: “This is a challenging time for Muslims and Jews, as we face rising Islamophobia and antisemitism, and many of us feel deeply affected by the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

“Yet there are still many of us who are committed to maintaining dialogue and friendship between our communities, which is why it felt so meaningful to welcome our Muslim neighbours to pray and break their fast in our synagogue.

“It is also a source of pride that so many in our city are eager to come together and show a warm, collective welcome to asylum seekers. We are very grateful to our Muslim partners who helped organise the Iftar and to everyone who came and joined us.”

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi helps with the post-Iftar clearing up
Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi helps with the post-Iftar clearing up

One of the speakers at the event, Tugba Saglam, who shared her perspective as a refugee, said afterwards: “Unfortunately, this year there is a lot of pain in our souls and we could not start the month of Ramadan as happy, thinking about the current conflicts going on. But, for the first time since Ramadan started, I felt happy when we break our fast together, when we all raised our hands and prayed for peace and reconciliation.”

The event was part of a year-long project which aims to bring together people of all faiths and none, to build friendships with asylum seekers in Birmingham. It was inspired by synagogue members who came to the UK as refugees in the 1930s and has been awarded Home Office funding, allocated by Birmingham City Council.

The food for the Iftar was provided by a local refugee-run catering company, with additional items also coming from the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre.

Find out more in The Times here (paywall), and on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme here (from 2:53:55).

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