Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Iftar with the Ambassador

I got invited to my first Iftar dinner last night. Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan. Amusingly this very nice occasion took place at the hotbed of Muslim cultural activity that is the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki! The embassy's chef out did himself with a selection of dishes from across the Muslim world.

The U.S. State Department has a rather clever public diplomacy programme of bringing four U.S. Muslims to other countries to meet civil society groups, local Muslims, students and who ever else they can rustle up (such as people like me) - so the meal was partly in their honour and partly a way of bringing Finnish Muslims and others who have tangential relations with the Finnish Muslim communities together with the U.S. diplomats.

I was told the delegations from the U.S. always include an Imam, a businessman or woman, a student and someone working for an NGO, and of the delegation visiting Finland, two were native born Americans from South Asian families, whilst the other two were newish citizens having arrived as refugees or asylum seekers. As the visitors said, the profiles of the people selected for these trips reflect the diversity of American Muslims, so one chap seemed quite secular and was busy tucking into food with the non-Muslims whilst most of the other Muslims present gathered for brief Iftar prayers, and one of the young women wore a hijab whilst the other didn't. I also learnt a new term from one of the speakers who talked about people "going fundo" (as in fundamentalist), a term that I rather like. So all in all a fun and interesting evening, and the guests from the U.S. were a credit to their nation, showing yet again that 'normal people' (whatever that means!) are often the best ambassadors for their country.

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