The Iftar, or the breaking of the fast, is one of the most significant points in the day during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.

Pearl of the Islands Foundation (PIF) a non-profit charitable organisation established by mainly New Zealanders of Turkish descent in 2006 – has been organising home Iftar dinners for over a decade.

This year, The Indian Weekender team was invited for one of the private iftar dinners hosted by a Muslim family from the PIF.

While most people would have experienced going to public or community iftar dinner events, or to iftar dinners hosted by one’s friends and colleagues in one’s lifetime, not everyone could be expected to have experienced going to a private iftar dinner hosted by an unknown family, which is from a different culture, and supposedly for reasons not entirely known to the guests – at least for this writer this was a first such experience.

A large number of people are believed to feel some fear when exposed to everything unknown – be it a person, an idea, technology, religion, culture or anything else in our day-to-day lives.

In that respect, the purpose of such private iftar dinners is precisely to tear apart such perceived fear of unknowns, between, and amongst us, and promote social cohesion and harmony.

For New Zealand, a nation boasting of more than 150 ethnicities from all around the world, social cohesion is undoubtedly a cherished goal.

Quick preparation of what to expect in such home iftar dinner had set up the expectation that one should look forward to engaging in first-hand cultural exchange and consequent dialogue arising from the many commonalities, after joining with them in breaking fast moment.

On top of that according to PIF’s own admission, the purpose behind such engagement in NZ was not only to facilitate understanding of the Islamic faith and culture but also to enhance the Muslim community's sense of belonging and its contribution to NZ society

Armed with this divine awareness our team headed for Ramadan iftar dinner on Sunday, June 10.

Did we learn something new?

Our hosts for the evening were a Turkish family, viz, Nail Umur – a mathematics teacher in an Auckland school, his wife Emine Umur, who also works part-time in education, son Murad and father Zafar.

The evening began with our warm welcome by Nail and his family and few close friends from the PIF, who were present on the occasion, right at the time of breaking fast time.

After the initial exchange of pleasantries, the family and their guests opened their fasts followed by an evening prayer, and everyone was shoved immediately towards the dining table to do the most anticipated thing of the evening – having a sumptuous meal.

After breaking fast with customary dates and water, a warm and delicious Turkish soup was served as a starter, and the feast began, with slow and steady servings of different cuisines of Turkish food.

An acknowledgement of the richness of the food served, and warmth of our hosts and their guests will not be excessive at all.

However, what is more, important is a glimpse inside a Muslim household from a distant cultural-region.

Unsurprisingly, there was nothing new.

Everything in their day to day lives, as simple as the motivation behind migration to NZ, struggles of building a life in the new country, pursuing a career, shaping kid’s life and including practising their faith, did not seem altogether alien.

In fact, things inside their household sound very similar to any other normal Kiwi household.

Highlighting commonalities in our culture

Our dinner table conversations meandered from initial inquisitiveness about each other’s countries of origin and culture, and interestingly agreed to one commonality, although not much in public attention – that in our cultures, and by some generalised extension, in most cultures around the world – over-feeding our guests was the only barometer of excellent hospitality.

It is to say that everyone in the room had some fond memories of their families back in their countries of origin, about over-feeding their guests, something they fancy in their new country of residence.

Such innocuous conversations made a perfect setting for exchanges on more serious and complex issues around religion, faith and negativity around individual faiths, especially in today’s all-connected digital world.

There were unanimity and a mutually shared sense of the longing for a peaceful and dignified life, regardless of ethnicity, faith and nationality in this country.

Did mission accomplish or not?

To gauge whether the mission was accomplished or not, if there was supposed to be a mission at all, would be slightly challenging, depending upon how we choose to define the mission at the first place.

However, a small casual conversation that we had with our host’s son, Murad, about his soccer match earlier in the day would suffice to say it all.

The boy was basking in the glory of netting three goals in his local club match earlier in the day and contributing in his team’s victory.

Probably there is nothing better to accentuate the boy’s sense of belongingness to this country, and needs to be celebrated without any prejudice or bias.

It is a responsibility for all of us to ensure that the sense of belongingness cultivated by kids of different ethnicities and religion, who chose to call New Zealand as their new home, is nurtured and strengthened without fail.