August 1, 2012, 4:22 PM
By TALYA MINSBERG
For many, the Olympics is a time of uniting for sport. Shaukat Warraich has helped unite London in a new form: over iftar.
Iftar, which translates to 'breakfast,' is the meal that Muslims eat after sunset when they fast during Ramadan, which this year coincides with the London Games. The meal is a community gathering and a time of celebration, with traditional foods varying by nation.
Warraich saw an opportunity for a different kind of local engagement and celebration.
As the chief executive of Faith Associates, a nontheological consultancy in Britain that serves ethnic minority faith-based communities, Warraich and his organization wanted to hold an iftar open to all.
With the help of various organizations, including the London Olympic Committee and some of the biggest mosques in Britain, Faith Associates created Iftar 2012 for Olympic athletes, spectators and local residents.
Iftar 2012’s social media efforts match those of the official Olympics Web site, with organizers posting on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and providing an iftar timetable for mobile phones.
'It’s been phenomenal, we’ve had a fantastic response,' said Warraich, who is also the director of the Iftar 2012 program. 'We’ve hosted foreign ministers and local neighbors.'
'We’ve got the Somali team coming, the Egyptian team coming, the Afghani team coming, and both male and female athletes are coming,' he added.
Olympians, dignitaries, Muslims and non-Muslims have joined in the celebrations, getting a taste of the mosques and the celebration of Ramadan in Britain. It’s a heavy undertaking because of the security needed for an open event where Olympians and dignitaries are intermingling with spectators and local residents.
Organizers have worked to ensure the densely packed host city has plenty of iftars, with various fast-breaking meals occurring around London. Iftar 2012 events are also being held in the soccer stadium cities of Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham.
But with Ramadan overlapping with the Games, many of the estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes and officials have postponed their fasts.
'Most athletes that we’ve spoken to have been given permission from their religious authorities because they are traveling,' Warraich said. 'By representing a nation abroad in an energetic sport, you can postpone the fast. Generally, the imams or senior clerics give religious rulings and people have to make their decision.'
Regardless of those decisions, the celebration continues to unite athletes and other iftar participants, he said. 'Some have been serving the food and some have been fasting. But they all observe the same breaking of the fast, going through the rituals with the rest of the community.'
With the global diversity that comes with the Olympics, Iftar 2012 has given way to many informal interfaith dialogues. 'Members of the National Scout Association are helping to distribute the food at these mosques,' Warraich said, referring to the Scouting organization in Britain. 'That’s been a really encouraging development.'
What’s perhaps most enjoyable for Warraich is watching local children celebrate iftar alongside Olympians, like discus thrower Abdul Buhari of Britain.
'People have been so excited about meeting Olympians they see on TV, they didn’t think they’d come to their mosque,' Warraich said.
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