By Dilshad D. Ali
It’s like a scene from “Dinner Impossible” on Food Network, and I am playing the role of Chef Robert Irvine – except its “Iftaar Impossible.” Your mission is to create a complete iftaar (fast-breaking) meal plus a full dinner and dessert to follow, and all must be served to your guests within a tight one and half hour time frame, which includes a 10 minute break to pray Maghreb, and have guests out on time to be able to make Ish’a prayers and tarawih prayers at the local mosque.
Will you succeed or will you fail? Will your guests make it through the meal and get out for Ish’a and tarawih on time? Will you, who have been fasting while preparing this feast, also survive?
This was the task I faced last Friday when my husband and I invited a number of friends to break fast with us at our house. Iftaar parties have all but disappeared where I live – most Muslims here either break fast with their family in their homes or go to the one of the local mosques to have iftaar and dinner. For four years now, the Muslims in our city have signed up to provide food one night during Ramadan for everyone at one of the mosques or tarawih halls.
At the place we go to for tarawih, upwards of 250-300 people show up for a community iftaar/dinner every night. It’s a neat set up – you can easily go every night and never have to cook during Ramadan. Of course you’ll be eating some sort of chicken biryani 8 times out of 10 – but hey, that’s how it goes.
Food jokes aside, these community iftaars are a great way to meet up with fellow Muslims and break fast together. Just be wary of the inevitable comparisons and criticisms that pop up, as people – especially the ladies – compare who cooked what on their night.
Since these community iftaars became popular four years back, home-based iftaar parties pretty much ended. But this year, before Ramadan started, my husband announced to me that he wanted to have friends over for iftaar one night. He doesn’t ask me for much, so I gamely said, “Sure!” and before I knew it, we had 20 adults and 15 kids coming over.
A friend of mine who’s not Muslim asked me why I was hosting the party, especially since four days earlier I (and three other families) had cooked food for 250 people for a community iftaar. I told my friend that there is spiritual reward for providing food to a person to break his fast.
In a hadith from Al-Tirmidhi, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “Whoever gives food to a fasting person with which to break his fast will have a reward equal to his, without detracting in the slightest from the reward of the fasting person.”
But my reasons for hosting my own iftaar were personal as well. With my eldest son being very autistic, he’s basically been excluded from these community iftaars. Excluded not outright by the community per se, but let’s face it. Taking him to community iftaars, or Jummah prayers, or any religious function has always been an exercise in stress, worry, stares, whispers, and outright comments.
A new Facebook friend of mine, who shares my experiences in raising a special needs child, recently posted this status update:
“An issue in the Autism community that is heavy on my heart is a simple wish..Regardless of what your faith is..be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu etc. we are usually unable to attend religious services as a family which is the bind that keeps a family together. Sure we can experience prayers as home but I long for the day to take [my son] to Jummah prayer alongside his father..Praying for that day.”
I too often make this prayer, and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to include Daanish in trips to the mosque for Jummah prayers, community iftaars, halaqas, and other events. So far the answer has been a sad no. I once spoke with the imam at one of the largest mosques where I lived and explained the situation with Daanish, and how I wanted to bring him with me to Friday prayers. He assured me it was perfectly fine and there was no problem with Daanish disrupting prayers with his vocal stimming or his running between the prayer lines.
But when it came to us actually going to Jummah prayers with Daanish, the situation wasn’t ideal. And the few times I took Daanish to community iftaars were stress-filled as well. One time two years back at a community iftaar, Daanish was acting up, so I took him outside while Maghreb prayers were performed. Soon enough we all went home, and I realized that in my care of Daanish and keeping him from distracting or bothering others, I had forgotten to pray Maghreb. That’s when I decided it just wasn’t worth it.
So this year when my husband asked me if we could go old school and have an iftaar at home, I agreed. Here was a way to bring Ramadan home to Daanish.
So we played “Iftaar Impossible,” and my mother-in-law and I raced against the clock to get everything ready on time. During our preparations, Daanish and my other kids busied themselves with other activities. Everything was going fine – until half an hour before guests were to arrive – that’s when, out of nowhere, that awful tantrum started. The wailing, the beating, the flopping.
In my mind, I turned to Allah and said, “Really? REALLY?”
I couldn’t do anything, as I was feeding my youngest at the time. I turned to my husband and asked him to handle it. He and my daughter took Daanish upstairs and shut the door. Sometime later, things got quiet.
Soon our guests arrived – just after I had everything arranged on the table. Right when it was time to break fast, Daanish came downstairs. I thrust the plate of dates in his hand and helped him hand them out to a few of our guests. A few minutes later he went back upstairs to escape the crowd.
In my heart, that was what I had hoped and prayed for – that Daanish would hand some dates out when it was time to break fast. It was my wish to bring that community Ramadan feeling home to Daanish, but we both knew it was really for me – a way for me to have my entire family together for a community iftaar at home.
Later that night, when everyone had gone to bed, I sat wearily on the couch and silently asked Allah for forgiveness, saying: “Ya Rab, I’m sorry I ever doubted You.”
–Dilshad D. Ali is the Managing Editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos.com