A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. – Wikipedia
Terms: Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims. It is a holy month and encourages sharing (among other things); not unlike the un-commercialized values of Christmas. Iftar is the breaking of a day’s fast at dusk.
Ramadan 2008. Miqdad Asaria had an idea. Why don’t Muslims go out and break their fast with the homeless in London; but with love and compassion being the added ingredient.
Typically homeless people in London are fed from “the back of a van” but this new idea involves people bringing what they cooked (to eat for their fast-breaking) and sharing with the homeless.
The homeless people were quite taken aback,” says Asaria. “They’re used to having food thrown out to them from the back of a van, but for us it was about sharing what we had and getting to know those we were eating with.” – The Guardian
Venues for the Flashmob Iftar are made known using social media. So even the Muslims that turn up with food may not know each other; it was a social event for both the sharers and the homeless.
However keeping with the spontaneous spirit of Flashmobs, detailed organization is avoided. Flashmob Iftars have been successful in the UK ever since (during Ramadan). There are youtube videos you can check out.
A Different Situation
Ramadan 2012. Now I want to bring this idea to Nigeria; Abuja for starters. There are three main challenges:
- Homeless is not equal to Almajiri/Beggars (Almajiri here refers to the pervasive child-beggars)
- Feasible Public Spaces
- Ramadan Traditions
First, Nigeria has relatively few “homeless” people as would be compared to the “homeless” in The UK. What we have are beggars/Almajiris and these are different in that these have been institutionalized in Nigeria. It is a defined career path en route a prospective future; especially for the Almajiris. Hence the consistent age range of most Almajiris (mostly kids). And as a result, Almajiris/Nigerian-Beggars lack the depression often associated with homeless of The UK.
Second, most public spaces are either not secured or closed-off at night (Iftar is at dusk). The secure spaces (at night in Abjua) are the public parks that host beer-parlors + prostitutes (+ delicious fish). This is certainly the last place a Muslim would envisage breaking his fast in the holy month of Ramadan. If you are Nigerian you are probably thinking “Mosque!” right about now. That brings us to the third issue.
Third, the Ramadan tradition in Nigeria is that food (for charity) is sent to mosques for Iftar (breaking of fast). Quite an amount of food is sent, hardly any Almajiri (virtually all Muslims) lacks food for Iftar. Any sensible Almajiri knows to go to a nearby mosque at dusk.
So we are left with the option of going to mosques to make food donation; giving in to tradition. The Flashmob element would be lost! Of course we could do that but… this is not simple charity, it is connection, it is compassion, it is surprise, it is engagement through Flashmob. So I had to make a few changes:
From “Flashmob Iftar” to “Iftar Flashmob”
After deliberation “Iftar Flashmob” became born out of “Flashmob Iftar”. Here is how the former differs from the latter.
- Not Full Iftars: As pointed out in the listed challenges, the lack of feasible public spaces for a full Iftar (proper meal) has led to a snack-Iftar. Snacks will be distributed (packed for easy distribution) to all recipients. Normally Muslims break their fast with a snack (dates, fruits, juice), then pray the dusk prayer before finally sitting down for a meal.
- Not targeted at homeless people: We have established that “homeless people” are relatively few in Nigeria. The logical choice of recipients are the Beggars/Almajiris, but Nigerian Tradition has provided meal for most of them. The target will be the average worker. Yes you heard me right. The average worker (Muslims and non-Muslims) in Abuja typically doesn’t get home early because of traffic and competition in getting on a bus. The Muslims caught in this situation would wish they could get a snack. The non-Muslims would like a snack too after a long day’s work. This is just one instance; others will be explored in time.
- May be funded: The UK Flashmob Iftar relies on people cooking and bringing a variety of food to the venue. In our Iftar Flashmob, we may accept contributions from those willing. For the time being, the “Iftar Flashmobsters” will contribute. We will be launching it under the NGO Mus’ab Ibn Umair Foundation (MIUF) which will also contribute.
The FLASHMOB in “Iftar Flashmob”
What remains of the original idea? Well, it is still Iftar (even though a snack-Iftar). More exciting, it is still a Flashmob. There is randomness in the venue to be “Flash-mobbed”. There is briefness; it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to distribute packs of snacks. There is surprise; It will be just a bunch of average-Joes (and Josephines) distributing free snacks one moment and disappearing the next. There is compassion; Ramadan values are at the core of this idea.
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Addendum – 29th August 2012
An important development happened a few hours before we went out for the first Iftar Flashmob which was prompted by an incident about a week earlier. We had visited a hospital (with the charity organisation MIUF) and we found out that some patients were not “friendly” towards Muslim-looking helpers. Others were apprehensive to the idea that they were being given charity (when they can afford more than our too-modest offering). By the way they were not charity give-aways but gifts.
That incident warned us on two things: The non Muslim we approach will be very sceptical and some will refuse to collect our snack-packs if they perceive it as charity.
Some ours before rolling out, we came up with an idea: we sell our snack packs (in stead of simply giving it out) BUT for FREE. If that is confusing, here this: we sell the snack packs for Zero Naira. Yea, the paradox of that statement is precisely what make the public receive us well. They probably now call us “Those weirdos selling snacks for free”.
It might interest you to know that we have started a catalog of Iftar Flashmob snack-packs. So far we have only one, I call it Capridate (Caprisonne and Dates). More are coming.
Watch a video of an Iftar Flashmob here.