Breaking the fast (also known as Iftar) is an especially precious time for any Muslim. Other than being able to quench a day-long thirst and satiate drawn-out hunger, iftars also usually entail valuable time spent with friends and family.
Thus, the iftar has always been a positive event, much looked-forward to by Muslims everywhere, as it also marks the end of another day spent in fasting and God willing, another day to come. And as with any joyous event, a tradition of sorts will emerge. The most commonly practiced tradition around the world during iftar would be to break fast with dates, or if unavailable, something sweet.
The tradition is so deeply-set that most of us would have felt it a little strange if dates are not present during iftar, while remaining unaware of the origins of this practice and the wisdom behind it.
As mentioned in the Hadith, the Prophet s.a.w used to break his fast with dates should they be available. In this sense, dates hold a special meaning for Muslims as we are then able to break our own fast the same way the Prophet s.a.w did – despite the many different types of iftars all around the world, consuming dates serves as a spiritual reminder of a tradition that has not ceased since it was started by the Prophet s.a.w thousands of years ago.
From a scientific perspective, dates, like any other fruit, are chock-full of vitamins and other good stuff. It only serves to make sense that the first food to enter our bodies should be the healthy kind, one helps us to carry out more ibadah during the holy month of Ramadan. Furthermore, dates contain natural sugars that will be quickly converted into energy in the body – an essential for one who has been fasting the whole day and wants to perform more night prayers later on.
“Dates are also high in vitamins A and B6, folic acid, potassium, natural sodium, iron, and magnesium. Thus, eating dates daily during Ramadan is like taking a daily multivitamin. This daily multivitamin can create a stronger and healthier body, one more fit for fasting. Dates also contain large amounts of dietary fiber, which can prevent any constipation that might result from eating the traditionally rich foods served during Ramadan. Additionally, dates protect the stomach and intestinal tract from parasites and bacteria, and thus is a good preventative medicine when eating iftar at unfamiliar locations.”
-Taken from http://www.shiachat.com/forum/index.php?/topic/234983334-why-do-muslims-break-their-fast-with-dates/
This is just one tradition. In such a diverse world, more are bound to surface. In Singapore, we have our own little traditions – buying kathira and burger ramlee from the bazaars in Geylang Serai, neighbors coming over to share their food, trying to find a parking space at the mosques for terawih, potluck with relatives – all of these make Ramadan all the more special for us. Fasting is the one time where I’ve felt that nothing has changed since I was a child, and this gives me great comfort and peace.
Likewise, there are other little-known traditions around the world. For example, President Barack Obama of the United States will be keeping up with his tradition of throwing the annual White House Iftar for Muslims – his fifth this year.
Believed to have been started by the late President Thomas Jefferson, the first White House iftar took place more than 200 years ago as the United States hosted the visit of a Muslim ambassador from Tunisia. The iftar took place on December 9th, 1805, and Sidi Solliman Mellimelli of Tunisia had arrived during the month of Ramadan.
When invited to the White House, President Jefferson changed the usual meal time from 3:30pm to sunset out of respect for his guest’s religious obligations. And now, the tradition continues.
“Ramadan,” said President Obama at a White House iftar dinner in 2010, “is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan — making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”
President Obama addresses his guests at the fourth annual White House Iftar
This tradition is one that speaks volumes, especially in a climate of heightened Islamophobia and tension between religious groups. In the many traditions around the world, this is one that I hope will be continued and celebrated as an event that reminds everyone of the mutual respect that we all need to internalize for each other.
Now, Iftar would be empty (literally) without the food that traditionally accompanies it. Here in Singapore, we look forward to an array of amazing dishes featuring asam pedas, lemak chilli padi, ayam masak merah, fried rice, beef rendang, black squid, rojak, bubur masjid and many more.
But the world has become smaller. Not all of us have the priviledge to commemorate Ramadhan on our homeland – some may have migrated, some may be overseas for work or studies.
When we have grown up loving these uniquely Singaporean dishes, we would definitely miss it when we do not have access to the food that reminds us of home. Similarly, in other countries, food is used as a unifying factor for many Muslims who live away from their families.
In Tunisia, couscous is served during the holiest nights of Ramadan – namely on the night of Nuzul Quran and Laylatul Qadr – as it is seen as a dish of good fortune.
In Bahrain, a variety of “Khaleeji” dishes are also synonymous with Ramadhan – it consists of samboosa, fareed, kunafa and harees.
Desserts are not left out as well. The Halwa Chebakia is a traditional Morroccan sesame cookie, fried and coated with honey. It is usually served during special occasions and Ramadhan.
As we can see, religion and tradition go hand in hand well, and acts as a glue for many Muslim families. Ramadhan is more than just about fasting – it’s also about being with the ones you love and upholding years’ worth of traditions. What would Ramadhan be without them? This is what holds Ramadhan a special place in our hearts.
This Ramadhan, let us all take a while to reflect. Are there any traditions that have disappeared and you want to see again? How would you feel if the traditions you uphold now cease to exist in a few years? And as a Muslim – are there any new, good traditions you could start for yourself and future generations to come?