With Ramadan quickly approaching, when Muslims around the world will fast from sunrise to sunset, Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert has her plate full.
For the second year in a row, the Minnesota-based Episcopal priest is organizing a state-wide effort to bring Christians and people of other faiths into mosques during the Muslim holy month. And if last year's program is any indication, close to a thousand non-Muslim Minnesotans will be breaking bread with their Muslim neighbors this summer.
"Christian-Muslim understanding is critical at the moment because of rising Islamophobia," Bronson Sweigert told The Huffington Post. "While I feel as a native Minnesotan that people are generally open and welcoming, there is still so much misinformation about Muslims, and therefore, about our neighbors."
Bronson Sweigert is coordinating the Minnesota Council of Churches' Taking Heart program, a series of open houses the council has organized at local mosques for the last 10 years in partnership with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. Fifteen mosques have signed up to host these free interfaith iftars thus far, opening their doors for non-Muslims to join them in the ritual breaking of the fast after a long day of prayer and worship.
To spread the word about the program, Bronson Sweigert and her team are sending invitations to everyone who has ever attended a Taking Heart iftar over the years -- roughly 3,000 in total, she said. They are also notifying churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in the closest zip codes to every participating mosque and providing them with posters, bulletin inserts, material for their websites, and anything else that will help them publicize the events to their communities.
Around the country, Muslim and interfaith organizations are doing similar outreach to ensure as many non-Muslims as possible spend some time in a mosque this Ramadan.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations released its annual "Sharing Ramadan Resource Guide" on Tuesday, providing everything down to the press release for mosques across the U.S. to successfully plan and host an interfaith iftar.
“We hope that just about every local community will have some type of event,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's communications director, told HuffPost.
The guide includes conversation topics, a sample event program, a brochure to hand out to guests, and more.
“We found through our research and experience that the way to challenge rising Islamophobia is through education and outreach," Hooper said.
Shoulder-to-Shoulder, an interfaith organization working to end anti-Muslim sentiment, released a similar guide earlier this month that caters to both Muslim and non-Muslim communities that might wish to host an interfaith iftar.
Those signing up to attend one of the Taking Heart iftars receive some information on what to expect at the mosque before they arrive, said Bronson Sweigert. Once there, she said, the mosque takes the lead, sharing information about Islam and Ramadan, guiding everyone through pre-meal prayers, and then, of course, inviting the group to enjoy a delectable feast.
Bronson Sweigert attended 12 out of 18 scheduled interfaith iftars last year and said the experience blew her away.
"The people I meet in Taking Heart programs are all very committed to their communities, the greater good, and interfaith encounters," she said.
"I loved learning more about what makes Islam and Muslim practice unique, but also really appreciate how 'ordinary' they are," she added. "I met soccer moms who drive their kids around, observed young women with hijabs and young men on their phones just like any other young people. Muslims want good lives for their families just like anyone else!"