Main shrine of Dhammarajika Monastery, Dhaka. From wikimedia.org Buddhist monks offering iftar meals to Muslims in Dhaka. From ucanews.com
In a true show of interfaith good will, a Buddhist monastery has been providing iftar (fast-breaking after sunset during Ramadan, according to the Islamic tradition) meals for hundreds of Dhaka’s poor and hungry.
Dhammarajika Monastery is located near Kamalapur Railway Station in the Basabo area of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. Its abbot, Venerable Suddhananda Mahathero, has been distributing packets of food from 5.30 p.m. every day during Ramadan since 2013. Outside the temple, long queues of poor people, mostly women, collect the iftar packets from the monks. “Everyday usually we distribute 300 packets of iftar items among the poor Muslims,” Ven. Suddhananda told the news agency Xinhua. “It is a religious service to stand beside the poor and helpless people. We are just doing it as part of our religion.”
He also told thedailystar.net that while he was regretful of recent incidents involving violence between Bangladeshi Buddhists and Muslims, he is determined to fulfill his religious duty of respecting all faiths and serving the vulnerable. “We become happy when we can serve people,” he said. His assistance to Muslims in need reflects a happy tendency toward interfaith co-celebration at other junctures during the year, such as the lighting of sky lanterns during Buddha Purnima.
Ven. Suddhananda is also filling a crucial gender gap in the iftar distribution practice, which can often overlook and exclude hungry and desperate women. “I work as a house helper in different houses,” 70-year-old Rashida Begum told Xinhua. “Every year, I come here to collect my iftar packet. In mosques, men can take their iftar but there is no option for women to collect iftar from any place. This temple is simply a blessing for poor and helpless women.”
When asked how she felt about collecting iftar from a Buddhist temple, another woman, Josna Begum, said: “It was not written that this food should not be from Buddhist people. Food does not have any religion. We are grateful to them (Buddhist temple people) for their service to the poor people.”
Sixty-six-year-old Sakhina Begum is another recipient. She came to the temple so that her sick husband and 10-year-old granddaughter could have something to eat after sundown. “For old people like me it’s difficult to find work so all I can do is beg. I don’t earn enough to manage two meals for the three of us,” she told ucanews.com.
Ucanews.com also reports that the temple plans to offer new clothes and more food donations during the evening of the Eid al-Fitr festival (the breaking of the fast celebrated at the end of Ramadan) in August.
Professor Mohammad Aktaruzzaman, a teacher of Islamic history at the University of Dhaka, told Xinhua: “It is a very good initiative as this will strengthen the religious harmony in Bangladesh. They (Buddhists) showed respect to another religion. They proved that humanity is above all. This is the spirit of religion that all should follow. They are not only distributing food among poor people rather they are preaching the message of peace and peaceful co-existence between religions.”
Dhammarajika’s iftar activities have been possible thanks to financing from Singaporean businessman Victor Lee, who began donating funds to the temple in 2013 for the express purpose of assisting poor Muslims, according to Dr. Pranab Barua, secretary for the Society for the Promotion of Buddhist Culture in Bangladesh. “Mr. Lee often comes to Bangladesh and has been sympathetic about the poor people here,” he said. Dhaka is home to 15 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in abject poverty.