Last summer I was sitting on a bench outside SOAS thinking what went wrong? After we finished university, my best friend and I had dreams of achieving greatness and rewarding our families for all their patience and sacrifice. However, like many other instances in life, the day after was not as expected. Before I knew it, I found myself deported from the United States, harassed in my home country and unable to speak to my own hospitalized mother abroad, so with no hope left, I pondered in despair.
Without a home, money and the slightest idea about how I was going to be able to fast during the most important Islamic month of the year, Ramadan, in my first summer in the UK, I was waiting for some divine guidance, no matter how small, so as to revive my spirits in a particularly point in my life. I waited. I walked around, came back, looked up to the sky and still there was nothing.
As I was about to get up and leave, the sign I was waiting for came and I hadn’t even realized it. Then a classmate and acquaintance, an RTP committee member walked up to me and asked me: ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘nothing just trying to sort out my life’. He smiled and replied: ‘Come and join us for Ramadan we volunteer everyday here and you can come and feel the good vibes with us […] trust me you will love it!’ With nothing better to do that day I said :I’m in!
After trying to convince my friend all night, we finally made it to the Ramadan Tent Project’s garden, for their ‘Open Iftar’. We rationalized that one day – a week maximum – would be enough so that we could at least tell ourselves ‘you know what, at least you did something good during Ramadan!’ Little did we know that from that day onwards both our lives would change forever. We gained far more than your typical volunteering experience. By the end of the month we both had a job, a roof over our heads and, more importantly, we had rediscovered our identity. Two young men on the verge of giving up had managed within a month to achieve more than we had done all year.
Coming to measure our feats and success in this project is truly unquantifiable. It is not praise, a 5-minute TV interview or any kind of special recognition that matters; after all, we were just security guards in a distinctly safe environment! Rather, it was those little moments, memories, friendships, love and charity which came to distinguish this experience from any other we had experiences. Here, at the Tent, we all stood as volunteers together, through the goods times and the challenging. There is no difference between colours or races or any other category which has been used to divide so many people: A real taste of communal life in the heart of London. For us, it was a slice of paradise on earth. And after a remarkable year full of challenges, achievements and more, we are both truly proud to be RTP volunteers, ambassadors of our beautiful faith and to have met such generous and hospitable people that went out of their way to help us both.
Today, sitting on the same bench where this story all began, I would suggest that if you are looking for a friend, a nice conversation, a charitable deed, a lesson in humility or a model for leadership then come join us at Ramadan Tent Project’s Open Iftar this year! You might not find us at the door with fluorescent jackets, but you will definitely find us somewhere amongst the hundreds of strangers, volunteers and guests breaking fast together in the spirit of compassion and peace. A true blessing that everyone should experience to see what is not shown on TV, what is not heard on the radio and what is not written in newspapers, what Islam, Muslims and Ramadan are really about.