Iftar at Shakespeare’s Globe is a reminder of England’s forgotten relationship with Islam

The Ramadan Tent Project has been organising Open Iftar events since 2013, using them as an opportunity to bring people together from different backgrounds to share a meal and learn more about Islam to encourage solidarity and compassion between Muslims and non-Muslims.

An Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan. It follows the recital of adhan (the call to prayer) and is seen as an opportunity to celebrate with friends and family.

Omar Salha, founder and chief executive of the Ramadan Tent Project, told the Standard: “We’ve chosen Shakespeare’s Globe like many other iconic landmarks in London and across the UK to raise awareness around the month of Ramadan and why it is so important for the many millions of Muslims who are celebrating this month.”

“The Globe represents the influences of the Muslim diaspora but also Muslim culture and heritage that we often find in Shakespearean poems and plays.”

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The Globe has never before hosted an Iftar, not in its present form or in the previous Globe theatre, which burnt down in 1613. However, the Elizabethan audiences from Shakespeare’s time were more familiar with Islamic culture than many today might assume.

Jerry Brotton, professor of Renaissance studies at Queen’s Mary University and author of The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam, explained that there is a loss of a memory today of the Anglo-Islamic relationship in the late 16th century.

“In 1570, Elizabeth I is excommunicated by the Catholic Church and labelled a heretic,” he told the Standard. “The other great heresy that’s known to Christianity at the time is Islam. She then reaches out to the Islamic Ottoman Empire and establishes an alliance with them and the North African Islamic states.”

“From the 1580s, the influence of the commercial and trade links from the alliance, are influencing English culture. It then also enters the theatre, because dramatists like Marlowe and Shakespeare are aware of this alliance between England and the Islamic world.”

“Islam” and “Muslim”, Brotton says, are not words that enter the English language until the early 1600s, so instead synonyms are used such as Turks, Moors, Persians and Saracens, words, which can be found throughout the plays at the time.

“It then influences Shakespeare as well, one of his earliest plays, Titus Andronicus features Aaron the Moor. In Henry VI there are references to the Prophet Mohammad. One of the suitors to Portia in The Merchant of Venice is the Prince of Morocco and then of course there is Othello.”

Since Open Iftar began in 2013, over 500,000 have attended their Iftars in venues across London and the UK. It will host its final Iftar of Ramadan this year at Trafalgar Square on April 20.

Brotton’s We Other Tudors is a 10-part series on BBC Radio 3 that examines the lives of people of different backgrounds who lived and worked in Tudor London. It starts on April 24.


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