Hundreds of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and non-believing New Yorkers gathered at a single long table in the East Village last night for Iftar in the City, an enormous outdoor celebration of the Muslim fast-breaking dinner that takes place each night during Ramadan. "Look at this long table that you're sitting on," said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. "I pray that we create tables like this in every corner of our country. A table that invites people to sit across from each other and say I see you, I love you, I respect you for who you are."
Sarsour was a featured speaker at Thursday's Iftar in the City on East 10th Street. Spread out across a single long table, over four hundred people enjoyed hummus, dates, falafel, vegetable salad, and chicken served by members of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs staff.
The Iftar was organized by the Mayor's office with the hopes of strengthening bonds between New York's Muslim community and the city's greater population, and numerous passers-by were welcomed to the table, given a plate, and told to dig in.
Thursday night's meal was the product of months of planning and represented the first outdoor city-organized Iftar in New York's history. Commissioner of the City Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn Malalis promised it would become a yearly Ramadan tradition.
"We wanted to take a stand as a city and make the message clear that this is a city for all," Malalis said. "We've been really focused on communities in New York City that have been particularly vulnerable and vilified. In this past year, we've seen how Muslim Americans and Muslim New Yorkers have been so under attack."
In a way, the meal was New York at its best: two hours of diverse fun steeped in tradition and open to all ages. But America's increasingly-Islamophobic political discourse and heightened tensions in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre were both a topic of discussion at the table.
"We live in a country that is consumed by hate, those who are hateful are louder than us," Sarsour said. "But I am an activist because I am a Muslim. My faith is not just a religion of peace, which most people say. My faith is a religion of justice and equity and equality for all people."
As dozens of attendees prepared for the evening's Salat prayer gathering, Sarsour encouraged listeners to be "unapologetically Muslim."
"We have everything to be proud of as a Muslim community," Sarsour said. "We have nothing to apologize for. We have contributed to this nation before it was called the United States of America. It was on the backs of black people, and immigrants, and Muslim people that it was built."