This past Thursday marked the first day of the month of Ramadan. This is the month that Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for thirty days to commemorate the days that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spent receiving the revelations of the Q’uran with no sustenance. The fasting (rigorous in that in also includes no water and abstinence from all sexual relations) also serves to provoke empathy on our parts for those people who do not have enough food and water on a regular basis.
In a nutshell, that summarizes the religious significance of our holiday. However, for each cultural group of Muslims, and family, the month of Ramadan is a time when we pull out our traditions and for a small period of time, we "live" our religion. I love this time of year because it is so family-focused: especially now, with children, it gives us the opportunity to talk to them about traditions and share with them things that were passed down from our parents and grandparents.
For example, when we get up for the morning meal (before sunrise which these days means we’re eating around 5am) of eggs, toast, coffee, hashbrowns and turkey bacon, my husband and I will often spend a few minutes reading the morning paper and enjoying the morning tranquility and each other’s company before the craziness of the day begins. This brings back memories of my early adolescence (when we first tried fasting on the weekends only, because nothing should interfere with school) when we would crawl into bed with our parents after "sehri" (the morning meal) to chat and cuddle before the sun rose.
About half an hour before sunset, I begin preparations for our "iftaar" (the ceremonial evening meal – the breaking of the fast). In my family, it’s the tradition to eat dates – the food that our forefathers used to break their fast on the desert. Following that, we have "sharbat", milk flavoured with rose syrup (found in Indian grocery stores, this sweet, aromatic liquid is made from concentrated rose petals and sugar) and tapioca seeds. The sharbat is usually served with fresh fruit salad and a spicy appetizer – samosas, spring rolls, kebabs or cutlets. It’s a sweet, indulgent meal, spicy and fresh – the perfect array of flavours to satisfy a large but delicate appetite.
I have an Ethiopian friend who, last year, brought over her family’s "traditional" iftaar, which consisted of a thick soup of barley and mutton, and meat patties that looked and tasted a lot like samosas. It’s always interesting to experience another culture’s interpretation of Ramadan, and I hope to sample some different treats this season.