Mass iftar at Bangladesh mosque shows true Ramadan spirit

Hundreds of fasting Muslims breaking fast with the iftar provided by the century old Andorkilla Shahi Mosque in Chattogram city of Bangladesh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 26 May 2019

Mass iftar at Bangladesh mosque shows true Ramadan spirit

  • The mosque has been distributing free iftar for the past 18 years

DHAKA: As the Asr prayer comes to an end, Andorkillah Shahi Mosque in Chattogram develops a festive mood during Ramadan and the junior imams get busy preparing iftar for more than 4,000 fasting Muslims. 

The mosque authorities have been distributing free iftar for the past 18 years. Hundreds of Muslims, irrespective of social status or creed, sit in rows and face-to-face to enjoy the iftar provided.

“With the call of the Maghrib prayer, hundreds of fasting Muslims sitting in a row break their fast with the sip of lemon juice. To me it’s a feeling of heavenly life soaked in a sense of fraternity,” said Sayed Anowar Hossain Jabiri Al-Madani, the khateeb of the mosque.  

“I have experienced this mass-iftar arrangement in the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Madinah during my visit to Saudi Arabia, from where the idea crept into my mind. I introduced this mass iftar offering at my mosque in 2001,” Hossain said. 

“It costs about $100,000 for the mosque management to provide iftar to devotees during Ramadan. On average, every day we have to spend around $3,000,” said Hossain, who is the chief imam of the mosque.  

Some local businessmen came forward to make Hossain’s dream true, but wanted to remain anonymous as they consider it a small contribution to Muslim devotees. The iftar provided by the mosque contains nine items including juice, dates, piaju (mashed lentils fried with oil), rice, soup, jalebi (a sweetmeat) and samosa (a triangular fried pastry filled with sliced meat or vegetables). 

The mosque authority prepares a large portion of the iftar items while some of the items are outsourced. The mosque appoints 10 cooks to make iftar dishes during Ramadan. Starting at 6 a.m., it takes a full day for the cooking team to prepare the items.  

“To me it’s not only a job, it is a passion,” Abdul Latif, a member of the cooking team, told Arab News. Latif has been doing this job at the mosque for the past 11 years. 

This mass iftar initiative by the 500-year-old mosque creates a sense of amity and brotherhood among the city’s residents.  “I come here every day to have iftar with the hundreds of devotees. It’s an environment of true religious fervor which attracts me most specially at the moment when everybody waits for the prayer call to end the day’s fasting,” said Iqbal Mahmud, a businessman in the city’s new market area. 

“I came to this area for some Eid shopping but couldn’t complete my shopping due to (the crowd in) the shopping mall. Suddenly, I came to know about this mass iftar from a shopkeeper and joined here which became a lifetime experience for me as I got an opportunity to have iftar with hundreds of people I don’t know,” he said.

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.