MALA intern Farah Harb participated in our May 23 Iftar meet-up in Chicago and chatted with attendees about their favorite Iftar memories and traditions. As we finish the homestretch of Ramadan, be sure to put our June 18 MALA Eid Party on your calendar!
Iftar – the meal with which Muslims break their fast during Ramadan – is a universal term for all Muslims. However, the memories and traditions of Iftar and Ramadan differ for every individual. We were honored to hear some special Ramadan memories from people at the Chicago Iftar on May 23 at I Dream of Falafel (IDOF).
On May 23, we ate shawarma and falafel, dipped our pita in hummus, and ate tabbouleh on the side – but that is not always everyone’s traditional Iftar meal.
As we were eating, Aqsa Sukhera explained to me that her usual Iftar meal is composed only of appetizers: fruit, samosas, and egg rolls. A couple of other people breaking fast with us also admitted to eating very lightly at Iftar. Our friend Isra Omar actually pointed out that she takes advantage of Ramadan to eat clean and healthy, almost using this holy month as both a dietary and spiritual cleanse. Although culturally, Isra says that her family is used to eating sambosa and shorba (porridge with chicken), she resolved to eat much healthier this Ramadan.
Yet the meal of Iftar cannot be reduced to simply being about food. It encompasses the process of making the food and sharing it with others around you who truly make the meal meaningful.
For instance, Aqsa and her sisters shared that Ramadan is the only time that their family sits together to share two meals a day. During the year, they are all too busy with the hectic pace of life and struggle to find time for family meals, but their Ramadan tradition is to help mom prep for Iftar and Suhoor (the pre-dawn breakfast allowed during Ramadan). As they eat together, they share funny childhood stories and enjoy each other’s company.
Spending time with families and loved ones is one of the most important things that people highlight about Iftars during Ramadan; this sacred time ties Muslims together, especially when they are fasting in a non-Muslim majority country.
Isra recounted her childhood Ramadans when she lived in the United Arab Emirates, a majority Muslim country. She remembers the comfort in not having to explain fasting to her friends and teachers. She remembers that work hours would be shortened, since the leaders of the nation themselves were fasting and understood the importance of dedicating time to worship and prayer.
Today, Isra admits to not having much time to attend Taraweeh (a nightly prayer during Ramadan) anymore because of her current work schedule: she can only be accommodated so much. She recognizes, though, that Ramadan is also meant to be a month of struggle and tenacity, a month for the realization of all the blessings we often take for granted.
When asked about Ramadan as a whole, most people admit that there is much more to this holy month than just refraining from food and liquids from sunrise to sunset. One of Isra’s clearest memories during Ramadan is that everyone is kinder; she always feels that people are happier and more at peace with themselves and the world during this holy month. To her, Ramadan is a time of self-reflection and a period to evaluate her behaviors, her treatment towards others, and her relationship with God. Her favorite part of Ramadan is developing her own individual spirituality, which she always hopes remains present after Ramadan is over.