So, one of your friends is Muslim and is currently fasting for the month of Ramadan. He or she decides to invite you to an Iftar. You probably feel humbled and flattered to be a part of it, heck, you might even try fasting yourself out of solidarity. Yet there are still questions that linger in your mind. What exactly is an Iftar? What is Ramadan? Why do Muslims all around the world observe it? Why do they starve themselves from food, water, and sex? And more importantly, how should you act and behave when attending an Iftar? Luckily, this guide will give you the some direction necessary to have a smooth and amazing Iftar with your friends.
Before we talk about the Iftar guide, let’s clarify a few misconceptions regarding Ramadan. Ramadan is actually a part of the Islamic calendar and falls ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. As a result, Ramadan does not doesn’t fall on the same month every year. Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and not for thirty days straight! Not only is that humanly impossible but humans can typically go without food for 21 days straight and without drink for 4 days (Janiszewski 2011). Also, if fasting were an all day thing day to day, everyone would quit after day 4.
Ok, now onto the guide!
1) Show up on time
When it comes to punctuality, all of us occasionally slip up from time to time. However, an Iftar is very stringent when it comes to time. Not saying we can’t wait another minute or so for a friend, but there’s an important aspect to arriving on time. Muslims around the world gather by the dinner table, with food and beverages in the center, to exchange conversation and smiles all around. And when the adhan is called, it marks the end of the fast, and Muslims can then eat. More on the adhan later. Sharing food at the dinner table is a universal experience that everyone can relate to and so it’s important to show up on time to fully experience Iftar.
2) Dress in Modest Attire
Dressing modestly could have varying definitions depending on the person. There definitely is no need to grow a beard for your best buddy or even don a hijab for your best friend. Ask your friend in advance about the proper attire, or try doing some research beforehand. But as a rule of thumb, it is fitting to dress to an Iftar as one would dress when visiting a religious site/ place of worship. Also, this is a no-brainer, but please take a shower and exercise proper grooming.
3) Don’t feel bad about Muslims fasting
Ramadan is a blessed time of year filled with spirituality and self-reflection. Usually, fasting motivates all Muslims to be even closer to Allah, and allows us to reflect on our blessings. When we, as Muslims, experience hunger and thirst all day, it encourages us to be grateful for all our blessings. It also encourages us to give to the needy in our community and extend kindness and generosity to those around us. It also allows us to practice forgiveness towards others in hopes of gaining Allah’s mercy. In addition, we use those feelings to gain a higher spiritual standing with Allah in hopes of atoning for our sins and of being a better person. Ramadan is a time where Muslims set spiritual goals and try to achieve them. It’s like new year’s resolutions, except we have an incredible amount of motivation to push through.
4) The Adhan
Whether it’s through a speaker, in real time or through someone’s phone, the melodious sound you hear is the call to prayer. And particularly in Ramadan, it symbolizes the end of the fast.You probably are wondering about the significance of the adhan and its importance.To start off, adhan is from the Arabic word adhina, meaning to listen, to hear, or be informed about (2016). Traditionally, the adhan is called in minarets of mosques all around the world, five times a day, to call people to prayer. The person, usually a male, who calls the adhan is called a muezzin.The adhan consists of three parts, takbir: God is great, the shahada: there is no God but God, Muhammad (PBUH) is the messenger of God, and finally the statement of faith: kalimah (Mohammad 1985). The first adhan was performed by a freed slave from Africa named Bilal Ibn Rabah. Once Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received prophethood, Bilal Ibn Rabah converted to the faith (Sodiq 2011). And Bilal was taught the adhan by prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself (Sodiq 2011).
5) What is your friend reciting before taking the first bite/ breaking his fast?
Your friend is most likely reciting this dua: “Allahumma inni laka sumtu wa ‘ala rizqika aftartu.” Which directly translates to “O Allah! It is for thee that I observe fast and it is with Thine blessing that I break it.” Just a small supplication Muslims say before they break their fast. It’s similar to when a religious Christian family says grace or a prayer before beginning a meal. Same concept.
6) Dates, snacks, and a glass of water
You are probably wondering who ordered the appetizers before arriving at the table. Don’t worry, it just part of the tradition and culture. Generally, Muslims tend to break their fast with a date and a glass of water because our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) broke his fast with these items. Then, depending on the restaurant, household, or culture, there are also small snacks that accompany the date and glass of water. The snack also varies from culture to culture. For example, Pakistani households have this snack called a samosa, which is dumpling stuffed with minced beef. These snacks are complimentary with most Muslim restaurants, so dig in.
7) Maghrib Prayer
As you may know, one of the five pillars of Islam is Salat or prayer. Devout Muslims try their best to pray five times a day. Once in the morning, once in the evening, and three times in between. The prayer at the time of breaking the fast is the Maghrib prayer. Explaining how Muslims pray is an expansive topic and requires more explanation that is beyond this guide. For your understanding, just note that when your host decides to leave after he or she eats his or her snack it is to fulfill their prayer obligation, and they will return shortly.
8) Expect a full meal
As mentioned earlier, even though the date and snacks that were present at the very beginning, those snacks are not the meal. Think of it this way, if you go to a Korean barbeque restaurant, you’re not going there because of the kimchi and lettuce. Similarly, there is the main entree that accompanies those snacks. Matter of fact, depending on the household, or restaurant, don’t be surprised if your Muslim host wants you to eat a three-course meal. So, if you are invited to an Iftar try to keep your stomach empty, that way you can savor every course of the Iftar and not miss out.
9) Don’t feel rushed if others leave right after Iftar
If you’re in a restaurant setting, you might notice that people start to leave right after dinner. They are very likely leaving to attend a prayer called Taraweeh. Taraweeh prayer is a voluntary prayer that is observed, in Ramadan, right after the last prayer of the night, Isha. A lot of Muslims feel motivated to attend taraweeh because, once again Ramadan is a time to be spiritually closer to Allah and attending taraweeh and giving up their comfort and spending time in prayer allows Muslims to achieve this. But don’t stress, The host, most likely, will not rush you to those prayers, so take your time and savor every bite.
10) Ask questions!
Remember, Iftar is just a taste of what Ramadan is and Islam in general. It would be impossible to explain every possible detail in Ramadan and Islam in general in just one sitting. So if you have any questions regarding the religion of Islam, rather than using google search from an unknown source, ask a reliable source. That reliable source, is your Muslim friends, and coworkers. And please, don’t hesitate to ask and there is no such thing as a wrong question.
Janiszewski, P (2011, May 13).The Science of Starvation: How long can humans survive without food or water? Plos Blogs, Retrieved from http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2011/05/13/the-science-of-starvation-how-long-can-humans-survive-without-food-or-water/
Sodiq, Y (2011). Insiders guide to Islam. Bloomington, Indiana: Trafford, 23.
Mohammad, N (1985) The Doctrine of Jihad: An Introduction, Journal of Law and Religion, 381-397