Iftar at Kazan Arena: fasting people instead of fans, prayers instead of football and magical numbers

How Kazan hosted the largest breaking the fast in Russia

Iftar at Kazan Arena: fasting people instead of fans, prayers instead of football and magical numbers Photo: Maksim Platonov

Having gathered 10,000 Muslims in once place, one day Kazan Arena stadium turned into a grandiose prayer hall. Religious sermons, azan (call to prayer), collective salah (prayer) and iftar – it all was here. There were not only minarets and boxes for sadakah (voluntarily charity) with mullahs sitting in front of them. A correspondent of Realnoe Vremya also visited the celebratory majlis.

A stab at 10,000 people

Having invited 10,000 people to Kazan Arena, on 22 June, Kazan made a stab at a mass iftar ever made in Russia. It is 1,5-2 times more than last year (according to different data, there were about 5-7,000 people in 2015) and 5 times more compared to 2014. Such a mass breaking fast took place in the capital of Tatarstan for the fourth time.

It should be noted the first regional iftar for 1,000 people was in 2011 in the Millennium Square. In 2012, the celebratory supper was cancelled because of the murder of Muslim scholar Valiulla Yakupov and an assassination attempt of Ildus Fayzov, who was Mufti at that time. In 2013, the city was busy again: Kazan hosted the Universiade. The regional iftar renewed in 2014 – in the football stadium.

The regional iftar renewed in 2014 – in the football stadium.

There were three organisers. The Association of Muslim Entrepreneurs of Russia gathered businesspeople's money for the next charity project. Some entrepreneurs were responsible for the meal, tableware and tablecloth. As Realnoe Vremya found out, they all did not want to make their names public and preferred Allah's reward to PR.

The Kazan Arena Directorate offered its site for the iftar and evening prayer, prepared all necessary equipment and provided 200 stewards gratis. And the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Republic of Tatarstan was behind of many organisational moments, gathered volunteers in advance, invited guests, etc.

Talk to the Mufti as a reward

As for the volunteers, the Muslim Spirituality Directorate of Tatarstan started to recruit boys and girls regardless of their sex and religion. The Youth Department created a special group in social networks. Initially, it was planned to recruit 1,000 volunteers. But in the end 800 people were selected.

The helps worked here from the early morning – from 7 a.m almost till night. They washed fruits, cut, placed tables, lied carpets, regulated flows of the guests, served food, cleaned and tidied everything up. In answer to it, the Muslim Spirituality Directorate of Tatarstan promised them God's reward, good mood, supper and a talk to Mufti Kamil Samigullin.

It should be noted the attraction of the young to such events became a kind of tradition for the Muslim Spirituality Directorate. Young activists often help in different big events (like Muslim Youth Forum), celebrations ( Izge Bolgar Zhyeny in particular) and different charity events.

Three dates on one day – a coincidence?

A curious day was chosen for the iftar. Initially, it was planned to hold the event on 10 or 16 June. However, at the end of May, it was known the supper would take place a day after the summer solstice – on 22 June. It should me mentioned the World War Two began on this day 75 years ago. As Mufti Kamil Samigullin reminded, the Battle of Badr, a famous event connected with the Prophet Mohammed and first Muslim's life, took place on 17 Ramadan according to the Islamic calendar. World Halal Day is also celebrated on that day.

Mufti Kamil Samigullin reminded, the Battle of Badr took place on this day

By the way, the organisation. It may seem the Sunset is at 8.32 p.m. in Kazan. It is time for azan (call to prayer) in the mosques, and people can eat and drink and say their evening prayer. But according to the programme, the guests could enter two hours in advance – from 6.00 to 7.00 p.m. Journalists had to come before them – from 5 p.m.

Indeed the guests were invited early. One woman sitting in the stand felt sick at about 7 p.m. It is probably a result of hot weather. The stewards helped her leave the stadium.

All guests were to listen to the reading of Quran, sermons of different religious scholars and religious songs sang by Tatar singers.

Transport issue was also taken into account. 10 buses picked the people up to the stadium and set them down (free).

As Kamil Samigullin told, they had been preparing for the iftar for a long time and carefully.

'According to the hadith, the man who advises never makes mistakes,' Hazrat Kamil said. We advised during a long time. The preparation took three months. Many people invested money and put moral effort. Allah gave the rest.'

Mufti could not tell whether the programme would be expanded and there would be more participants next year.

'We will think about it when this iftar ends. When we organised an event for 1,000 people, it was one thing. Then we thought to invite 2,500 guests – we did it. Later we wanted to host 5,000 – done again. Now we need to consider it one more time.'

The stewards quickly helped a woman who felt sick.

By the way, iftars for 25-30,000 people are held every day during the holy month in cities in Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries, so that Kazan has room for growth.

What were 10 million spent on?

10 million rubles in total were expended on the organisation of the iftar.

In other words, it was presupposed a meal for one person would be 1,000 rubles (500 rubles in 2015).

This time the menu consisted of vegetables, fruits, dates, pastry, tea and an indispensable part – aromatic Uzbek pilaf. There were prepared over 3,5 tonnes of pilaf in 18 big kazans. Everything was halal, as it should be. Even cookie had a halal mark written in Russian, Arabic and English.

The meal served in an unusual way – in containers with sections used in planes. Pilaf was packed in special boxes.

Without Mayor of London and Superior Mufti

Admission was by invitation only. First of all, they were given to orphan kids, lone mothers, disabled people, large and economically disadvantaged families.

'The invitations were given to orphanages first,' Samigullin said to Realnoe Vremya. 'Then administrative units of the districts were given the invitations. They wanted to get 200-300 tickets. Last week we actively handed them in the Spiritual Directorate. Our phone was ringing off the hook during the last days, people asked for the tickets. They finished on 22 June, but people went on calling us. We understood the demand is huge.'

There were prepared over 3,5 tonnes of pilaf in 18 big kazans

Mufti could not tell how these administrative units handed the invitations and whether an ordinary religious person who fasts and wants to visit the iftar could enter the stadium.

First persons of the republic (including Rustam Minnikhanov and Mintimer Shaimiev), representatives of other religions and national diasporas of Tatarstan were among the VIP. The Muslim Spiritual Directorate was going to invite Mayor of London Sadiq Khan but we did not see him. Chairman of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Russia and Superior Mufti Talgat Tadjuddin who always visited the regional iftars was absent too.

Moscow Mufti and chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Chuvashia Albir Krganov was there and noted that women were a great part of the people who came to the iftar.

'Usually women don't use to go to mosque. And here our mothers, sisters, daughters can also join this event. Such attention to them is a right example,' he stressed.

He also told Moscow also has been organising such events during Ramadan for 10 years. But the capital has never had such an organised meal of the Muslims.

When the time came, the muezzin called to prayer and thousands of religious people said an evening prayer on the football pitch. Laid tables were waiting for them after the prayer.

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By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: Maksim Platonov