Tag Archives: iftar

My First Ramadan

Ramadan is the most holiest of holy times for Muslims because it’s the time that the angel Gabriel gave the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  It’s one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan. (I knew this from earlier visits to the Middle East.)

This year, Ramadan began May 6th when I found myself in Cairo preparing to join a medical convoy to Gaza, and was scheduled to end June 4th (or maybe June 5th depending on the country). Most of my Egyptian family at Pension Roma, my home when I’m in Egypt, are Muslim. They were looking forward to Ramadan.

On the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation, I decided to join them in their daily fasting. Of course, fasting is only one part of Ramadan; reading the Quran and praying every day is also very important to Muslims during this time. I didn’t plan to read or pray.

ramadan lanterns

So why did I fast?

  • To respect my friends. It felt disrespectful to eat or drink when they couldn’t.
  • To experience the feeling of emptiness and fasting for myself.
  • To challenge myself. Could I abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for an entire month? (I like challenges.)

What did I learn?

  • For a newbie, fasting is not easy, especially during the first week or two. I experienced headaches, fatigue and very low energy at the beginning. Instead of working on a writing project every afternoon, I napped.
  • Surprisingly, the empty feeling in my stomach felt good. By nature, I’m not a foodie who looks forward to cooking or eating. It’s just another bodily function which I must attend to in order to keep my body healthy. My doctor routinely chides me for my bad diet. During Ramadan, I had a good reason for not eating.
  • Giving up water in the hot Mediterranean climate is something else. I found it very difficult not to drink water when I was thirsty. By mid-afternoon, my mouth and throat felt like cotton. Yech!
  • Appreciating how my internal clock could adjust to the early morning (3 AM) knock on my door to join Yousef and the rest of my Egyptian family for a meal before sunrise. I’ll remember that time together with a special fondness.
  • The best part of Ramadan for me was sharing the pre-dawn meal and later breaking the fast with the Iftar meal at sunset with friends and community.

Iftar gathering in downtown Cairo 2

Every afternoon just before sunset, I walked the streets in my Cairo neighborhood and watched people preparing for their Iftar meal. The fast-food guys rushed by on their scooters delivering orders to shopkeepers. Many people took seats on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for the signal from the Mosque that the official time of sunset had arrived and people could eat.

In a restaurant where I frequently ate, everyone was seated and chatting well before the appointed hour. Suddenly, the entire place would fall silent as everyone started eating in unison. Food takes on a new meaning when you’ve been fasting the entire day.  The Iftar ritual always began the same way — eating a date or two, and drinking water and juice (mango or date juice). Delicious!

Breaking the fast with friends (new and old) reminded me how lucky we are to have the gift of food, and also that millions of children and families around the world are starving because of war and ungodly sanctions that prevent food delivery.  [How can Saudi Arabia hold itself up as a good Muslim country when its actions are directly causing so much death, destruction and starvation to millions of Muslims in Yemen? If I was a practicing Muslim, I would boycott Hajj and Umrah in Mecca until the monarchy in Saudi Arabia aligns its actions with the teachings of the Quran.]

I experienced many, many examples of love and kindness during my first Ramadan. The Cairo shopkeeper (the man in the middle) always asked about my bum leg because he noticed I was limping. Each day he told me he would pray for me, and he encouraged me to pray as well. Then there was the date seller from Aswan (right photo) who introduced me to the most delicious dates I’ve ever tasted. He waved to catch my attention each time I passed, even if I was on the other side of the busy street.

I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with very good friends from Gaza now living in the United Arab Emirates, so I decided to spend the last two weeks of Ramadan in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.  

On my arrival we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because the sunset was nearly upon us.  The Mosque prepares Iftar meals for 30,000 people every day during Ramadan. The Mosque and its beautiful surroundings were only surpassed by the superb organizational efforts to provide a feast on such a grand scale. I was speechless.  

Iftar in Abu Dhabi 3

Another day we drove out to the sand dunes where we watched the sun slowly sink in the west and ate our Iftar meal on a blanket under the stars.  Despite the alarm I felt driving out in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight and no markings or signs anywhere, the serenity and peaceful surroundings was a heavenly experience beyond anything I’ve known in my 65 years.

Iftar in the Sand DunesEid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It feels like every joyous holiday in the world wrapped up into a single day. We woke before dawn and went over to the small neighborhood mosque in Sharjah where everyone was gathering to say their morning prayers. I stood back and watched.

Eid al-Fitr in Sharjah women praying

Children in their new clothes reminded me of the excitement and anticipation I experienced every Christmas morning as a child. I learned about the Eid tradition in many families of giving their children a little money to spend on sweets and toys. [And I was reminded that many children in Gaza are going without even this little pleasure because life in Gaza is practically unlivable.]

Fasting this Ramadan gave me time to meditate and think. For me, Ramadan is about sharing love with each other and there’s an abundance of love to go around (more than enough for every man, woman and child on this Planet).

Love is love, whether a Muslim, Jew or Christian shares it.  Our world needs much more of it but there are so many examples of people withholding love for the “other”. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah – Yahweh – God never intended for any of us to be miserly with our love.

I felt well-loved and cared for during Ramadan. I will always remember my blessings.

 

 

 

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Iftar for Gaza

Ramadan is a holy time for Muslims around the world when they celebrate the moment the Koran was unveiled to Muhammad. It’s a time of fasting, praying and reflection. It’s also a time to forgive and ask for forgiveness, which I find very healing. Whether Muslim or not, the world would be a better place if we followed this instruction.

So I ask forgiveness from friends, family and anyone I have hurt this past year. And I forgive those who have slighted me, hurt me or disappointed me.  A new year and a new beginning.

IFTAR for GAZA

To honor my friends in Gaza and to raise funds for UNRWA-USA, I organized an Iftar in Albuquerque with friends and neighbors. The Iftar is the meal to break the daily fast after sunset.

Laura Stokes and good food

We met at Sahara Restaurant on Central Avenue for delicious food — Basmati rice, falafel, hummous, dolmas, shawarnah, and fattoush salad. As I watched my guests serving themselves, I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count.  I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them.

Samia Assed 3

Samia Assed provided a touching introduction to Ramadan, the significance of the Iftar, and why zakat (donations) is considered a very important part of Islam. She discussed the crisis in Gaza and how difficult life is for many families. Since Trump has decided to reduce the U.S. contribution to UNRWA by 83%, the only lifeline that many Palestinians must rely on for their basic sustenance is in serious danger.

Hence, the reason for my Iftar.

For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.  Thanks to generous friends, I’ve raised enough to feed 7 families and will continue reaching out to the community near and far until I meet my goal. Online donations are graciously accepted here.

This was a great chance to network. Laura Stokes announced that PDA will be showing the film Radiance of Resistance,  the story of nonviolent persistence and resistance by the Palestinian people against the theft and occupation of their lands.  This film features the courageous actions of two Palestinian girls, one of whom is now in an Israeli prison.   

June 13, 2018
First Unitarian Church
3701 Carlisle Blvd. NE Albuquerque
5:30 PM MINGLE, 6:00 PM PROGRAM

Thank you friends!   Your hearts and words at the Iftar cheered me and provided me more sustenance than you can ever imagine.

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Iftar in Albuquerque

Ramadan in Cairo

Waiting for sunset in Cairo for the Iftar meal

During Ramadan (this year May 15 through June 14), Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal known as Suhur and a sunset meal called Iftar.

This year I’m hosting an Iftar for my Muslim and non-Muslim friends in Albuquerque to raise funds for food-insecure refugee families in Gaza. For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.

The date and location of my Iftar in Albuquerque will be announced soon, perhaps with an extra surprise thrown in. I hope you will consider donating online, and help me reach my goal before the end of May.

Following the US funding cuts in January 2018, many of UNRWA’s programs are at risk, including emergency food assistance for the nearly one million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip who are relying on UNRWA to meet their basic needs.

With 47% of households in Gaza food insecure, this Ramadan, I am committed to doing something about it by hosting an Iftar for Gaza.

Please consider making a donation before attending the iftar, so we can tally our impact!

By joining this nationwide movement, we’re not only putting food on the table for a Palestine refugee family — we’re also sending the message that Americans care.

Thank you for helping me reach my goal and for providing a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip!

Donations to UNRWA’s cash and food assistance programs are zakat eligible as certified by the National Zakat Foundation. For other ways to help this month or for information on how to host an Iftar for Gaza, please visit unrwausa.org.

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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The Virtual Iftar Project

Cafe Rich in downtown Cairo

Cafe Rich in downtown Cairo

Three or four years ago, I met an American in Cairo who shared a novel idea with me over dinner one evening at Cafe Riche.   He wanted to use technology like Skype to connect people from different countries and cultures to share a conversation over a meal.  Honestly, I was blown away with the idea.

When do we have our most honest and intimate conversations?  When we’re sitting together around the table eating dinner!  That’s where we build understanding and trust.  Eric Maddox ran with his idea and The Virtual Dinner Guest Project was launched.

The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is a movement aimed at creating a global cultural shift in the way people view their relationship to news media, from one of passive consumption, to one of collaborative production, at the local level, and on a global scale.

I observed a virtual dinner between the Palestinians in Gaza, Palestine and the Native Americans in Oakland, CA in 2013. They sat thousands of miles apart while speaking with each other as though they were across the table from one another, asking questions, sharing answers, eating dinner in Gaza and breakfast in Oakland.  Maddox writes:

Imagine if we started utilizing emerging technologies to “connect” in the ways that actually make a difference. Imagine using our “connectivity” to bring things full circle and get back to where human connections first started, back to the world’s oldest and most universal social forum… back to the dinner table, and towards a new kind of media movement.

The most recent dinners and conversations were organized this year during Ramadan, in the Virtual Iftar Project.  “Iftar” is the meal that Muslims share when they break their fast at sundown. Find the Virtual Iftar Project on Facebook here.

Maddox and his team followed a path taken by many Syrian refugees in Europe. They traveled from Serbia, to Kosovo and Germany, all the way to the Netherlands. In this video (part 1 of 4) he connects people from Kosovo and Gaza over an Iftar meal. Then the participants go out into their communities and ask ordinary people questions raised by their dinner guests. The more we share their questions and answers, the more we’ll learn from each other.

I hope you’ll watch and stay connected with the Virtual Dinner Guest Project.  *This* is how we build a future of security, peace, safety and understanding, not in the board rooms at the World Bank or in the shuttle diplomacy of the elite diplomats. And certainly not with our drones and bombs.

 

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