While many people may know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, they may not realize the social and cultural aspects of the month. Ramadan, as I mentioned in my first post on the topic, is probably the most social time of the year. In addition to more time in the mosque, Muslims spend more time socializing during Ramadan. Ramadan is definitely a time of festivity.
At the end of each day, Muslims break their fast by partaking in a meal called ‘Iftaar. This meal for many Muslim families consist of special foods that are often prepared throughout the month. Because of the social nature of the month and the encouragement to feed fasting people, many Muslims will share this meal with numerous friends and families, which often includes non-Muslims as well.
In Muslim majority countries, the experience of the festivities is often intensified. An air of festivities that cannot be matched in America is created when the whole country prepares for Ramadan: speciality foods are more readily available, media outlets respond with special programming, and work and school days are shortened. However, since the Muslim American community is incredibly diverse, the sharing of ‘Iftaars provides Muslims here with the opportunity to exchange the foods of their culture. During Ramadan, I usually end up trying food from all different parts of the world!
One thing that is shared across cultures is the feeling of responsibility towards members of the community who are less fortunate. In Egypt, for example, large tables are set up throughout the cities with free ‘Iftaars for anyone who wants to partake in the meal. In America, many colleges now participate in the Fast-a-thon, which is an event where students of all faiths sign up to fast for a day and arrangements are made for a certain amount to be donated to charity on behalf of the person fasting. Usually an ‘Iftaar is arranged at the end of the day so that everyone can break their fast together.
No matter where Ramadan occurs, one of the most important aspects of the fasting is the chance to share the experience with others.
Do you think that community is an important aspect of religious observances? Can fasting bring a community together? What are some of the religious observances in your tradition that focus on community fellowship? Please share your comments.