Arts and Culture

A shared fast, a shared feast: Ramadan's lessons in unity

An evening iftar meal
During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast and pray. At Masjid An-Nur Mosque, an evening meal called Iftar is served after sunset to break the fast. This meal is an opportunity for Muslims to spend time with their loved ones.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Every year, grocery store and restaurant CEO Majdi Wadi of Holy Land in northeast Minneapolis orders special food items for customers to celebrate Ramadan.

But it’s not easy working in the food industry during the month of Ramadan.

“It's a tough mental game, to be honest with you,” Wadi says.

Wadi, like all able and observing Muslims, has been fasting from the break of dawn. He won’t be able to eat, drink or take medicine until sunset, as it would invalidate the fast.

A fasten meal is served
A meal is served to break the fast midway through Ramadan at Masjid An-Nur Mosque.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

“It's that the challenge of, you know, cooking the food and … browsing the shelves to make sure that our customers have everything that they need for Ramadan and looking at the product while you're fasting.”

The food Wadi has ordered includes dozens of different kinds of dates, as well as region-specific bread. Most of this will be used to break the daily fast at sunset during a meal called Iftar.

While Iftar can take place at home, often mosques will host community events. An example is Masjid An-Nur in north Minneapolis. Monday through Thursday, members of the community file in to have their first taste of food and water since the break of dawn.

Tables of dates await patrons. They are used to break the fast, following the advice of the Prophet Muhammad.

A prayer signals the end of the day’s fast, and then an Iftar meal is held in the basement.

Women pray at sunset
Women pray at sunset before breaking fast at an Iftar meal at Masjid An-Nur Mosque.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

“In Islamic tradition, Ramadan is very communal,” says Haron Abdullah, a Muslim man who has been coming to Masjid An-Nur on and off since the 1990s. "Eating together, breaking bread together, it's a common thing.”

In the U.S., Iftar meals reflect Islam's rich diversity, with dishes from various cultures.

“We can one night go Asian, and next night go Hispanic, Mexican — and next night go Soul food,” Abdullah explains. “For us, it's like music, it has to be good music, you know?”

Najeeba Syeed, El-Hibri endowed chair and executive director of Interfaith at Augsburg University, echoes this sentiment.

“We have a very strong presence of Black Muslim community that's been here for generations,” says Syeed, who is in her first year living in Minnesota. “What's really lovely about Islam in America is that we're the most ethnically diverse and racially diverse religious community in the U.S.”  

A person hugs a friend
Natasha Brazelton hugs a friend at Masjid An-Nur Mosque. Following prayers, a sunset Iftar meal is served.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

For Syeed, Ramadan and Iftar meals also offer a unique opportunity for hospitality and interfaith work. She says it’s a chance for creating peace, which “is based on food and breaking bread together, for sitting at the same table. It's really hard to fight afterwards.”

Majdi Wadi says that fasting also has another meaning: it is meant to be a time of spiritual reflection and learning better habits.

“Hopefully within [fasting] ... you will learn new habits, good habits that you will continue after Ramadan,” Wadi says.

Back at Masjid An-Nur, Imam Makram El-Amin shares his thoughts on Ramadan and fasting, and the wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Muhammad the Prophet, peace be upon him, he said, for those who are not concerned with their behavior or their speech during Ramadan, God has no need for them to leave or food or drink,” El-Amin says.

“It's definitely about that growth and development, that looking inside. And all of these things are really a part of this, this whole picture of what Ramadan actually is.”

Fasting officially ends with Eid-al-Fitr on Friday evening.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.