Amid the Halloween parties, parent organised school discos and the merriment of the Christmas festivities, which are almost upon us, a state school in West London has played host to a colourful school Iftar (meal to break fast). Organised by an enthusiastic young mother with a child in reception and the close co-operation of the school head teacher, Mrs Ali decided to hold an Iftar party for the entire school!
`I had the feeling that some of the teachers might believe Muslim parents to be unsupportive of the school as they are not seen to organise and attend social events. I thought that an Iftar would be a time to show that parents in general are more than willing to support the school if engaged in a culturally appropriate ways.'
Once Mrs Ali had gained the support of the head teacher, who encouraged all of his staff members to attend, she approached Muslim parents suggesting that they bring food that would represent the richness and breadth of the ethnically diverse community. `I wasn't surprised by the response of the sisters they were, of course, delighted to be able to provide food for others who were fasting, and were keen to put on a well-organised show and spread for the non-Muslims attending too.'
`Maash'Allah (praise be to God) the food was spectacular consisting of Lebanese, Pakistani, Palestinian, Egyptian, Algerian, Moroccan and Saudi cuisine with some good old English home-baked cakes for good measure! A Somali mother who I had had problems communicating the details of the event with arrived with a pushchair that was bursting with freshly cooked food! I think it was nice for the teachers to see, in practical terms, the extent to which parents wanted to support their school community and, with English communication sometimes being a barrier, actions really did speak louder than words.'
The pupils put on an engaging programme of Qur'anic recitation and Islamic songs, reflecting the importance of Ramadan, leading the head teacher to remark on how pleased he was to see the pupils so skilfully and confidently displaying their talents.
`The only hiccup to the event,' said Mrs Ali, `was that the programme was somewhat badly timed and finished before sunset. However, by the grace of God, this too was turned into a positive experience and in the short interlude pupils were asked about their favourite reasons for fasting and you could see the keenness on their faces as they waited with their hands up to give their contributions.'
`It makes me think about poor people,' said one. `I like it because I'm doing what God wants me to do,' remarked another. Another child captured the feeling of the whole evening, as only children can, commenting: `I love eating together with my family and friends at Iftar time'.
The parents involved were truly grateful to the school and in particular the head teacher for the opportunity to bridge-build with the wider school family. And the children seemed to have got a real buzz out of dressing up and sharing something of their way of life in school, rather than confining this to the home. `We can't really help at school discos, raffles and barbeques' said one parent `but now we have shown that we do care about our school community.'
Mrs Ali was in conversation with Dr Sangeeta Dhami.