Dinner with a Social Goal

Above: A campaign to bring diverse groups to the table has been driven by an effort founded by Fez Zafar, left, a Des Moines teenage Muslim.


A local teenager dares to dream big in the name of cultural harmony. Fez Zafar, 16, initiated a campaign to revive the tradition of the American Iftar Dinner, a cross-cultural meal intended to support “unity and harmony” across religious and cultural differences, he says. The event was a White House tradition from 1996 to 2016.

Toward that goal locally, the son of Dr. Sawad Zafar and Mashal Husain has collaborated with religious leaders, including Bishop Richard Pates, Rabbi David Kaufman, and the Rev. Mike Housholder. More broadly, his campaign for the Iftar Dinner on Thursday, June 7, has spread rapidly through social media, where he reports “overwhelming” support (as well as some cynical criticism) from coast to coast.

In an essay published by The Des Moines Register, Zafar wrote: “The dinner will be one that celebrates not only Islam, but all the world’s religions through a non-partisan meal shared by people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, as a symbol of our commitment to unity, diversity and tolerance, and as a celebration of the humanitarianism that Iowans and people across America have exhibited.

“Despite our differences, I believe we all share the same hopes and aspirations for our future generations to live in an accepting and peaceful world. As a call to action, I urge my fellow Iowans and people across the United States to host their own dinner, invite ethnically and culturally diverse guests and, in their own way, promote a unified existence.”

The Iftar Dinner can be as simple as inviting a diverse group to your home for a meal and conversation. Or it can be more formally established with cooperation of a hosting site. For example, Zafar says, several local sites are being developed, including the Des Moines Social Club, the jazz club Noce, and the Des Moines Art Center. For details, visit the website www.iftardinner.org or view developments on Facebook.

“It’s a chance for people of different backgrounds to learn about one another,” Zafar says. And, if you’re not up for creating a dinner, he encourages you to make an effort that day to chat with someone with a background different from your own, commenting on such moments on social media using the hashtag #mealforhumanity.

Zafar has championed social unity before. Last year, he was among 28 students from across the country honored for creative video productions in a White House student film festival that drew some 700 entries. His award-winning film, “The Road to Unity,” involved about 20 actors, most from Roosevelt and Valley high schools, each representing their ancestral homelands, says Zafar, whose family came from Pakistan. The young videographer has created a number of productions that can be found here.

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