A popular response to fasting in Ramadan, often acknowledged with its innocent humor, tends to be – “Not even water?” While Muslims observing the holy month go about nodding to this inquiry, we often escape a far more profound and piercing question that would arise if the same people saw how we broke this heroic feat at the Iftar feast: “All to yourself?”
Ramadan, it turns out, is a month ripe for business opportunities, especially for those involved in the trade of food, drinks, and experiences. In cities such as Dubai where I reside, people are quick to call out communication material that takes the Iftar experience out of a decadent dream book to retrofit within the holy month. The result is a clumsy advertisement living the twilight existence of consumerism and spirituality, a message caught between the confusions of dawn and dusk.
A veteran journalist recently revealed the litany of press releases he receives couched in “Ramadan Specials”. He stated: “Flash your best smile at Iftar parties with special Ramadan offers on dental implants,” and whilst he excused what looked like poorly thought literature, he was treated like some expert talk on what Ramadan is – “all about Shisha, socializing and playing cards.” I’m sure they were referring to menu cards, no? Well…
While we allow for fluidity in rituals and traditions so that people of all faiths observe and admire the unique concept of Iftar, Iftar actually risks plunging into a soup of obscurity. Iftar, though referring to the meal taken to conclude one’s fast at sunset, is in essence the celebration of a moment. A moment that wraps a day’s spiritual endeavors at a humble table filled by servants of the religion and its God whose inspiration they seek. It is a rare moment of abundance that brings the devout closest to letting go of a deprived state. But this is unlike the consumerist notions of abundance and deprivation, here they are rich in the state of deprivation, and only richer when abundance stares from the plate of dates and fruits. The parched throats that restrained a drop are now cleared for the gush.
When the same meal takes on the image of royal luxury – in practice or in press releases – it is rendered impoverished. An ideal Iftar can never be that which spreads over endless and overflowing plates, interspersed with magnificent cutlery that chink against each other. Rather, an ideal Iftar sees people – the rich, poor, perfumed, and perspiring – brush against each other to patiently fill their stomach’s due. It’s an extension of the sacred rituals of prayer and communal living, not a diversion from it.
A moment of Iftar brings us closer to ourselves. It helps us return to the light within, rather than the most sumptuous part of the buffet section. As we undertake the journey of reflection and refinement in Ramadan – a month marked more by giving than by consuming – we might as well wonder what maketh a grand and decadent Iftar. We need to ask if Iftar is a meal that’s best enjoyed by those who’d praise us in social circles, or a charitable moment appreciated by those who’d remember us in prayers.
The question is best answered right now, in this very month, when we’re already tasked with responding to the cardinal question: “Not even water?”
This article was written by Rehmatullah Sheikh.