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Break bread and share faith at Iftar celebration

Five years ago the tragedy of Sept. 11 left its mark on the nation. Reeling from its aftermath, a group of local people were inspired to create Neighborhood House's annual Iftar celebration. The event gives people from diverse communities a chance to share cultures and offer support.

Iftar is the evening meal eaten every evening during the month of Ramadan. During this holy month, all Muslims must fast from sunrise to sundown. Ramadan is observed in the ninth month of the Muslim year.

This year's Iftar celebration will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at Robert Gray Middle School, 5505 S.W. 23rd Ave. The public is invited to attend to listen to speakers, engage in discussion and enjoy a traditional meal.

Organizers for the local event say that the celebration has fostered understanding among different religions as much as it has created lasting friendships.

'Since I've participated in the Iftar, I've never felt prouder or more comfortable as an American since Sept. 11,' says Shahriar Ahmed, president of the Bilal Mosque in Beaverton. Before then, he says, 'We were focused solely on retaining our faith practices among ourselves in our new homes. We were more worried about explaining our faith traditions and values to our children than to our neighbors.'

Iftar has fostered a friendship between Ahmed and Neighborhood House's 2001 President of the Board of Directoors John Calhoun, and Executive Director Rick Nitti.

As board president, Calhoun, a member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Hillsdale, saw an opportunity to bring together people of all faiths to address concerns over possible backlash directed at the Muslim community after Sept. 11. He approached Nitti about the idea of creating an interfaith dialogue to foster understanding. A member of the Muslim community came up with the idea of an Iftar that would be open to everyone.

'Initially, our concern was for the safety of Muslim families living in our community,' Nitti says. 'As we began to talk, it became clear that many of us didn't know much about Islam and Muslim cultures. We began to ask how we could gain a better understanding of our commonalities.'

Samira Godil, then president of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland and currently a health coordinator at Neighborhood House, was instrumental in bringing the Muslim leadership, including Ahmed, to meetings that preceded the first Iftar.

Godil calls the Iftar a good way to get to know people and understand more about each other's faith. 'What we have learned is that we're all of different faiths but we share many similar values,' she says.

For more information, please call Neighborhood House at 503-246-1663 x111.