Ramadan, Seva, and Social Justice – Musings from a diaspora Desi
Typical of South Asian families, I grew up with a selfless and relentlessly giving mother. Warm; loving; nurturing; and a feeder. Less conventionally, I grew up with a father who was deeply engaged on issues of social justice and equality in the social and political sphere. With activists like Darcus Howe in and out of the house, my father had me read the Pedagogy of the Oppressed at 9 years old. Our Sikh household was alive with debate and conversation about distribution, race politics, and justice over long meals with guests. As a result, the thing that resonated with me most about my faith was the principle of ਸੇਵਾ (Seva). Seva means selfless service – for me, the combination of my family values and spiritual education as a child gave the foundation that led adult me to social justice work as a trainer facilitator and researcher, working with vulnerable and marginalised communities globally. Currently, I am based in Tokyo, working on a range of community projects with partners in the Europe, Japan, North America, and the MENA region.
Personally and professionally, I see Ramadan as a beautiful opportunity to humbly connect and reflect on our spiritual journey, whether muslim or not. Fasting opens a vulnerability that is key in allowing people to ground and (re)connect. The sacrifice, service, and humility I see the muslim community engaging in during Ramadan centres me and brings me back to these values in my own faith and spiritual practice.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees this in the same way as me, and divisive perceptions of Islam often prevail in some of the communities I live in, and work and engage with. I regularly experience deep seated Islamophobia in my own faith community that needs to be dislodged – especially in the British Diaspora. Along with anti-blackness and colourism, these are relics of a colonial past, and are complex to open up even with some youth that align themselves as ‘liberal’. These perceptions are rooted in a narrative that is taught casually at an early age. While these conversations do exist in a small sphere online, offline is less common. Ramadan provides a unique quietude. It creates space to humanise in person those that have been othered and marginalised by colonial narratives; institutionalised racism; and the mainstream media. It is an invaluable opportunity to bridge communities through the very essential human task of breaking bread together.
Both in my personal and professional practice, food is a bridge. This year, as every year, I will be hosting a series of Iftars to bring together muslim and non-muslim communities, creating space for dialogue through moments of joy and vulnerability; while also inviting guests who are able to make a donation to charity of their choice to honour the idea of selfless service. Eating is essential part of our humanity, and the sharing of this vulnerable moment provides space to break down those barriers of hate. They were not created by us – but whether we uphold them or not is a choice we can make. Choose food; choose each other; choose love; choose connection; choose humanity.
Amardeep Kainth’s reflection comes to the Parliament of the World’s Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at info@ParliamentOfReligions.org, or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.