It’s a muggy Saturday evening in south Belfast and the summer sun, covered by dense cloud, is just setting. Out in front of Shaftesbury Leisure Centre, just off the lower Ormeau Road, children are running in circles around their parents squealing joyfully. Approaching the centre, women wearing pink, red and yellow hijabs push prams past a mural of Gaelic footballers and hurlers; men are gathered around the entrance shaking hands, embracing and chatting. A group walks past the men carrying platters of steaming halal goat and chicken. Tonight, the Sudanese Community Association Northern Ireland (SCANI) is hosting an open iftar dinner, the nightly breaking of the fast that happens during Ramadan. The majority of the hundred or so people gathered here have not eaten since the sun rose more than fifteen hours ago.

Inside the centre on the basketball court are a dozen tables set up with surrounding chairs. The hum of a bouncy-castle generator mixes with the screams of children enjoying themselves. My wife and I are welcomed by a friendly group of men, a few dressed in ankle-length thwabs, who sign us in and guide us to a table. Projected onto the wall is a large message: “Wishing everyone a Happy Ramadan. May the spirit of Ramadan illuminate the world and show us the way to peace and harmony.” The room is split into two sides, one with women, and one with men. Sitting at a table of women in hijabs is Alliance MLA, Anna Lo. With the men is Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey. My wife, myself, and our female friend are all brought to one table. The traditional rules don’t apply to non-muslim guests.

Read the rest at Slugger O’Toole: http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/07/20/ramadan-in-belfast/

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