Iftar And Its Significance

The celebration of Iftars during Ramadan has become an expression of diversity and acceptance of the Muslim community around the world. Participation by politicians is a recognition of the demographic changes, especially in the Western World.

Sixty years ago, a white man named John Howard Griffin temporarily darkened his skin to pose as an African American in America’s Deep South and recounted his experiences of fear and prejudice in the book, Black Like Me.

To mingle with the Muslims today, you don’t have to wear a skull cap and sport Solzhenitsyn type of facial hair. Just get invited to an Iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal during the month of Ramadan! I did precisely that and attended four Iftar parties on Long Island in New York. As a bonus, I can tell a happy story of increasing communal amity.

My last Iftar on April 18 was hosted by the Town of Hempstead, presided by Supervisor Don Clavin. According to Zahid Syed, the Town’s Community Affairs Executive Director, as many as 800 people showed up. They included non-Muslims like me, a Hindu, and fellow editor Prof Indrajit Singh Saluja, a Sikh, all mainly hailing from the Indian subcontinent. Zahid claims that the first Iftar in New York held 25 years ago in City Hall was at his behest. This year, he has noticed quite a few first Iftars, including at the Town of North Hempstead, and the District Attorney’s office in Suffolk County.

Zahid Syed, who is organizing a Vaisakhi event next, is heartened to see people celebrating other communities’ festivals, signifying interfaith harmony. “The participation by politicians of all stripes is a recognition of the demographic changes,” he states.

Before the Iftar meal, Imam Kashif Aziz, associated with the mosques in Valley Stream and Elmont, explained the significance of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar when the Quran began revealing to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Believers are told to do charity work and feed the hungry this month. Fasting is to practice self-control and earn taqwa (piety/God consciousness).

My Iftar hopping started because having founded ALotusInTheMud.com a few months ago, I noticed that my Rolodex – even Facebook friends list – was not diverse enough. To make amends, I approached Arvind Vora who has been active in the interfaith movement for over 30 years. He took me along to many events and got me invited to Iftars.

My first Iftar was at the Amityville mosque of Ahmadiyyas, a sect of Islam. Rizwan Ahmad Alladin, its President, graciously invited me to introduce my Lotus magazine to the assembled men (women were in the partitioned section of the hall). The buffet was typical for South Asian gatherings (except for the alcohol, the prohibition of which is followed strictly by an overwhelming majority of Muslims till today). There was chicken biryani, goat meat, and even matter paneer, especially added to the menu for Mr Vora, a Jain.

The Iftar I enjoyed the most was hosted by Yavuz Girdap at his home in Saint James, NY. He is from Turkey and a franchisee of Moda Foods, importer of Turkish delicacies like baklava, which is going mainstream. The meal planned by his wife, Hafza, followed to the T what a doctor would have ordered. Lentil soup and salad, followed by brown rice, pasta, lean meat, and baklavas for dessert. All at a leisurely pace as conversation flowed and we had our laughter therapy thanks mainly to guest Nora Saleem’s cascade of cat stories.

One guest at Yavuz’s was Sadri Altinok, President of the Turkish Cultural Center in Ronkonkoma. So, I promptly got invited to their upcoming Iftar. No segregation of the sexes there. Sadri Altinok honored some of those who donated to Turkey earthquake relief and Suffolk County officers for their service. Mr Vora told me later that for decades the Turkish community in the US has been at the forefront of soft diplomacy of outreach to other communities and lawmakers.

A guest I met at the Turkish Cultural Center was Azra Dhar, President of Pacoli (Pakistani American Community of Long Island). She said that earlier when the Muslim community was smaller, people hosted Iftar parties at home with friends and family or went to the mosque. Now with a growing community and acceptance of diversity, you see Iftar gatherings at the official seats of government. “After years of tightness, I am happy to see this acceptance,” she commented.

While Azra Dhar attended over a dozen Iftars this Ramadan, Tahira Sharif, a fellow Pacolian who started  Ali Hasnain Foundation for philanthropic work in Pakistan, has also attended as many. Feeding a fasting person brings Sadaqa from God, she says, and that is how arose the tradition of people, organizations, mosques, and the community holding Iftars. While Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is said to break his fast only with a few dates and water, Tahira says it is difficult to resist good food after the rozas from dawn to dusk without even a drop of water.

My neighbor, Rehana Siddiqui, who recently went to do her first Umra pilgrimage in Mecca, has followed prayers more devoutly this Ramadan and watched what she was eating to break the fast. She reports losing six pounds – and looks it.

Religious fasting, however good for your spiritual well-being, should not turn into feasting in these times of sedentary lifestyles when we all have to watch our diet. Done right, Ramadan can detox your body as well, not just the mind and soul. Dr Irfan Ahmad Alladin, a pain management expert,  quotes Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) no less: “We should consume only to the point that one-third of the stomach is occupied with solid, one-third is occupied with liquid, and one-third is left empty.” See his article here:  https://alotusinthemud.com/moderation-the-right-way-to-ramadan-fasting/

Eid Mubarak – April 21. 

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