Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the most sacred of all months in the Muslim year. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn to dusk. They cannot eat, drink, smoke cigarettes, have sex or partake in anything associated with the senses.
Fasting ends at sunset, and depending on where one is in the Muslim world, it may be marked by the traditional call to prayer. The proper time to break the fast is twelve to fifteen minutes after sunset. If fresh dates are not available, one can substitute dried dates. If no dates are available, then the fast is broken by drinking water. Traditionally, the dates will be eaten before the sunset prayer, and the meal to break the fast will occur after the prayer.
The traditional evening fast breaking meal is called Iftar, and the literal meaning of the word Iftar is break fast. It is essentially the same thing as futuur (pronounced fitoor) and it is the opposite of suhoor (or suhor) which is the meal that is eaten before dawn and before the start of the fast.
Depending on the country people are in, the tradition people may choose to break their fast as a community event, by going to the mosque and sharing the meal with their religious community, or they may opt to do it as a family event for which families may sometimes invite some of their extended family to join them.
The traditional meal to break the fast begins with the eating of an odd number of dates. Soup may also be eaten, or this can be eaten after the prayer. This may happen before the Maghrib prayer. After sunset prayer, people will join together for a meal. The things that are served vary from country to country.
IFTAR IN IRAN
In Iran, Iftar foods will include dates, of course, herbs, other sweets, halva (a kind of sweet treat made from ground sesame seeds and sugar. It is sometimes flavored with other things such as pistachio nuts, almonds, vanilla and chocolate. Other things that might be served are flat breads, paneer and chai tea.
IFTAR IN BANGLADESH
In Bangladesh, there is typically a lot of food served for Iftar. There may be lots of sweets, dates and watermelon. Other foods might include Dhal Puri which is a pastry made from lentils, and Haleem, a very rich Persian dish made from meat, lentils and wheat. It is flavored with various spices and cooked all day. Chola (cooked chick peas,) and Muri, a spicy toasted puffed rice snack that is flavored with onion, chili and garlic are also traditionally served.
IFTAR IN INDIA
In India, people typically eat Haleem because it is so rich and filling.
IFTAR IN INDONESIA
In Indonesia, the sound of a traditional Indonesian drum called a deduk announces Maghrib. The Indonesian word for Iftar is “buka,” which means “to open.” Markets and street vendors will sell traditional special foods for Iftar. One of the special sweet treats that is commonly found in markets is Kolak. It is served cold rather than hot during Iftar. It is made of coconut milk, palm sugar, banana, jackfruit or other fruits.
IFTAR IN PAKISTAN
In Pakistan, Iftar begins as soon as the sirens signaling the start and as soon as Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer is heard. People start rejoicing in the streets upon hearing the sirens.
Elsewhere, Iftar preparations had been started three hours prior to the siren. People in homes, street stalls and markets are all preparing to celebrate. After eating dates and having sunset prayer, Pakistani people typically partake in sweet and savory treats and sweet drinks. Sometimes a bigger meal will be served later in the evening.
One of the universal ways by which people celebrate Iftar after the end of a day of fasting is by going out to visit friends and family or having people come over.
Iftar is a daily observance during the month of Ramadan. Everything leads up to the ultimate celebration which begins when Ramadan ends. The morning after the last night of Ramadan is the beginning of Shawwal, or the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. Id al-Fitr is an important day of feasting and celebrating.
The month of Ramadan is one of the most important religious observance in the Muslim religion. Iftar is the way by which Muslims are able to break the day long fast and share in the meal with their families, friends and communities.