Muslims and Jews gather together for Iftar in Tunisia

North Africa

Tunisian Jews celebrate Iftar with Muslims on the day of Ghariba Annual Mass, as the country is keen to promote tolerance and co-existence among its different faith groups.

On the day of the Ghariba Annual Mass, a Jewish pilgrimage to the historic synagogue on the Tunisian island of Ghariba, Jews and Muslims also broke fast together to celebrate the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. This was thanks to a government initiative to help promote tolerance and peaceful co-existence in a country keen to modernise its domestic and international image.

The Ministry of Tourism organised an iftar, where Muslims during Ramadan break their fast at sunset, which was attended by around 800 Jews and Muslims, the former of whom had come from all over the world to revive the Ghariba Annual Mass. This year marked the first time in 30 years that the Ghariba Annual Mass coincided with the Holy month of Ramadan.

In a region that has been blighted by the scourge of sectarian violence for many decades, the Tunisian Government is keen to promote a “tolerant, confident and moderate Tunisia” and guarantee security and stability to peaceful co-existence among all faith groups. Those participating from both faiths were also eager to emphasise their commitment to this cause and heralded it as an example of interfaith cohesion.

“I am celebrating with Muslims the month of Ramadan,” said Ibrahim Ezra, one of the attendees. “This confirms the possibility of co-existence in that we can share our religious occasions and celebrations with happiness and in harmony”.

Tunisia, like its neighbours, has not been a stranger to sectarian violence in the past. In April 2002, explosives were detonated outside the Ghariba Synagogue, killing 21 people, among whom were 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French nationals. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing, which caused many of the last remaining Jews in Tunisia to flee the country.

With Tunisia still reeling from the 2015 Sousse attacks that killed 38 tourists, authorities hope that the active promotion of religious cohesion will help to re-define the imagined experience of Tunisian society for both Tunisians and outsiders. There are signs that the project is on the right path to achieving its aims, as participants at this Iftar have called for tangible measures to ensure greater harmony between people of all faiths.