The month of Ramadan is a time for followers of Islam to fast — but food also plays an important role.
For the entire ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims worldwide fast from dawn to sunset without food or drink, in a practice that provides space for deep spiritual reflection and teaches patience, according to an article from Gulf News.
But an important part of Ramadan is breaking the daily abstinence with two meals: a pre-fast meal called Suhour, before sunrise and the Fajr prayer, and a meal after sunset and the Maghrib prayer called Iftar. Throughout the day, communities gather for other scheduled prayers before joining in a meal.
Mohammed Sirajuddin is the Imam, or spiritual leader, at the Islamic Society of Michiana, located at 3310 Hepler Street in South Bend. For Ramadan 2014, held June 28 to July 28 (the calendar is based on cycles of the moon), he will conduct the prayer services for nearly 250 families in the society at both the beginning and ending of each day’s fast.
“This is a special month for Muslims to be conscious,” Sirajuddin said. “There’s no eating, no food, no drink. We do this because we have been commanded to do it by our Lord. It’s a reminder that we are not only here for food and material things, but we are here to serve.”
Local members often eat the early Suhour in their homes before coming to the society at sunrise to pray, Sirajuddin said. In the evenings, small groups of members meet for more hours of prayer, a snack and then a larger meal to break the fast together from 9:30 p.m. to as late as midnight.
Saturday evenings are for the entire community to gather, often with more than 500 people in attendance.
Dates are often a customary snack to ease into eating after hours without food, according to blogger Yasmin of Health Nut. It was a tradition of the prophet Muhammad, and they contain natural sugars that give energy without a processed-food sugar crash.
And what’s for dinner?
Since Muslims worldwide practice Ramadan, foods served are diverse and varied, with dishes from many countries in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, according to Katie at The Kitchn. The Islamic Society of Michiana is no different.
“We have many ethnicities in our community, so we have all kinds of food: Middle Eastern, Africa, Indo-Pakistani, even pizza and pasta,” Sirajuddin said. “Families sign up to sponsor the meals each evening. They are usually feeding many people people, so a few families come together.”
A typical meal may contain fresh fruit, vegetables, halal meats, breads, cheeses, and sweets, according to The Kitchn. Sirajuddin listed biryani as a popular option, a rice-based dish made with spices and chicken, fish, eggs or vegetables. The Health Nut offers a seven-day meal plan for Ramadan, with suggestions such as green lentil pancakes with nut chutney, baked chicken with tandoori masala, and mango lassis.
There’s a recipe for dates and cream from Yvonne Maffei, who writes the food blog My Halal Kitchen, included in a list of her favorite recipes on NPR. She also likes chickpea and sundried tomato salad, or hangers steak with mango salsa.
It’s important to ease slowly into a meal, advises the Gulf News article. Lighter food and drink such as green tea, coconut water or soup, like a lamb and chickpea soup from Morocco, are easy on the stomach.
Rafat Ansari, a doctor at Michiana Hematology Oncology in South Bend, and a member of the society, echos that fasting can have health benefits in addition to a spiritual aspect.
“Even though the tradition is 1600 years old, we’re learning that fasting can be good for your body to detoxify,” Ansari said. “And to think about those people who don’t have any food, to share that feeling. Then when you are ready to eat, you want to share that food, too.”
The society provides opportunities for members to give back during the month.
“We also practice acts of charity in feeding others,” Sirajuddin said. “We raise funds for the poor and needy and have a food drive to donate to local food banks. Fasting helps us to feel how it is not to have food and drink.”
On July 28, the last day of Ramadan, the society will hold a celebration feast to mark the end of Ramadan (called Eid al-Fitr). Sirajuddin invites anyone interested in observing the practices of Ramadan to come to the Islamic Society of Michiana in the evenings, beginning around 7 p.m.
In the meantime, try these recipes for Ramadan on Flavor 574’s Pinterest page.