Knowing the other: the experience of the Iftar with the Muslims

On Tuesday 28th May, the church dedicated to Lazarus, in the Palestinian town of Bethany, was the setting for the meal (Iftar) that follows sunset during the Muslim month of Ramadan, organized by the associations Mosaic Centre and ATS, which collaborates with the Custody of the Holy Land.

Bethany, al-Azariya in Arabic, is an important place from several points of view, but above all due to the presence of the Tomb of Lazarus. We can find evidence of this place as early as in the diary of the Bordeaux pilgrim of 333 AD, who mentions the crypt where Lazarus was laid to rest, then resuscitated, and in the writings of the pilgrim Egeria, who speaks of the liturgical celebrations in the Lazarium. Today Bethany is a busy town with many small commercial businesses, focusing on tourist resources thanks to the projects of ATS and Mosaic Centre, supported by the Italian Agency for Cooperation.

"We are delighted to have the chance to be brought together in this celebration,” said Dr. Musa Khatib, the deputy mayor of the town, before the start of the meal. "It is the second time that we have come together for this event and we hope to do it every year because it is a sign of unity between Muslims and Christians." Together with the Franciscan friars of the Custody, many people attended, representing various local institutions: representatives from the Palestinian governmental authority and other local associations, head teachers and Sheikhs from the mosques.

According to tradition, the attendees waited for the call of the Muezzin from the Mosque standing opposite the Church of Lazarus for the recital of the prayer of sunset, the salat al-Maghrib, which precedes the start of the meal. Immediately after the fast had been broken, it was the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton who spoke, recalling the origins of the place and the Biblical importance it has for Christians. "Bethany is the house of Friendship,” said Fr. Patton "as the home of the family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, the place where they welcomed Jesus and where he  always found friendship, a sense of the family and welcome: this is why this initiative of an Iftar where together, Christians and Muslims, we share the meal is important. It is a sign of the commitment of the community so that it remains a place of hospitality, friendship and brotherhood." The Custos concluded, mentioning the activities carried out by the associations, in particular for the women and children of Bethany, with these initiatives creating occasions to share and allowing the local people to get to know a piece of history that also belongs to them.

"Since ATS and the Mosaic Centre have started working in Bethany, we have realized that we have to concentrate in the first place on the community,” said Osama Hamdan, representative of ATS and of the Mosaic Centre. "Having the Iftar inside the Church is a good opportunity to create bridges, to bring people together and get to know each other better. It is fear of the other that creates problems, when you have direct experience of people you overcome all the problems and realize that we are all the same, each with their religion but all with the same God.”  Cristina Natoli, in charge of the Jerusalem office of the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development, also said she was proud to fund this association in order to build bridges and not walls: "This type of initiative helps to restore places but also to support the community that lives around it, creating opportunities for work and the creation of revenue which reinforce the bonds between Christians and Muslims.”


Giovanni Malaspina