Sunday, August 15, 2010

Collective Iftars

"And what is that in your right hand Abu Omar?", a curious brother asked me when we were sitting in the mosque waiting for the magrib athan to breakfast. "It's a mug containing my daily Ramadan dose of soup. I brought it to help keep me alive until my turn comes, 30 to 45 minutes after the athan, to get my dinner!", I replied.

As I stand in line, uncomplainingly waiting to get my food, those who beat me to the line (many are children and only God knows how many of them fasted that day) start to emerge from the line with plates full of my favorite foods; chicken tanduri, sambusak and salad. By the time I get to be served my favorites are gone.

I was in a food line at a mosque and I noticed from far away my favorite fruit salad. This time I was lucky to find some left when I got there and I served myself a nice bowl. To my surprise it contained extremely hot spices and I had to force myself to eat it since I wasn't used to having hot spices in the fruit salad and I hate to leave behind any food. This was an Indian version of the fruit salad. I guess a warning like "Extremely hot, consume at your own risk" would have been nice. I need to confess that since then I have liked it so much and enjoy eating it when invited to my Indian friends. I think it is a matter of knowing what you're getting yourself into in advance.

When you are invited to a huge collective iftar at a convention center or the like, you may try to locale the food serving lines and sit as near to one of them as possible in an attempt to get your iftar quickly. This technique will probably not work; our non-Muslim, non-fasting friends will be called first to the food line. This is understandable, they are our guests and we should show hospitality. Then tables will be called by 'random' numbers to the food line and you're left to your luck!

I love these collective iftars. People are competing to earn the reward of all of those fasting invitees . The Prophet (PBUH) said in the hadith:

Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast will have a reward like his without detracting from his reward in the slightest

The fasting person in this hadith could be rich or poor, friend or relative. These collective iftars bring families and friends together. You sometimes get to see people you haven't seen for years. These iftars are conducted at homes, at small community centers, at mosques and Islamic centers, and large banquet halls.

Collective Iftar Etiquettes

1) If you're invited, especially at someone's home, please come on time and don't break your fast before you show up. Remember the host is looking forward to earning the reward for offering you, as a fasting person, the food.

2) If you're hosting a collective iftar, please make sure that the food is ready at magrib time. Some people have medical conditions and need to eat quickly and remember that speeding up the breaking of the fast is an Islamic virtue. Also, please make sure there's enough food of every kind you're serving for every guest. (Fewer varieties of food with enough of each for everyone is preferable. Actually this helps people to eat more reasonably because their urge to sample everything is less likely to overwhelm their stomachs.)

3) The 3 thirds diet of the Prophet (PBU):

"No one fills a pot worse than his stomach. For a person a few mouthfuls are sufficient to keep his back straight. But if he wants to fill his stomach then he should divide his stomach into three parts; one third part for food, another third for drink, and a third empty for easy breathing." (Tirmidhi)

I always try to apply this great rule.

There is nothing wrong with the host encouraging people to take seconds, or to sample each dish. Some guests might be shy. However, sometimes the host will insist and force you to take seconds and thirds. Your plate is piled well beyond what you can eat and you hate to waste. And the host might be watching to see that you eat it! Let us be careful of the difference between encouragement and forcing. By doing this, when the dessert time arrives, you already over-filled your stomach. Most of my friends know that I seldom go for seconds (strategic plan to leave room for the dessert in addition to air).

4) Watch over the children! They always fill their plates and half of the food is thrown away. They need to be trained to get a little amount of food and come back for seconds if needed. Actually we need to be careful as adults not to put more on our plates than we can comfortably eat.

In many countries there are poor people in great need of food and they may have few means of preserving food. So it makes sense to eat extra heartily when you get food, because it is there, you don't know when you might see your next big meal, and it will spoil if it is not eaten.

Let us remember those people in need and send help to them. And since we have sufficient food here for all and we can store leftovers safely, let us be moderate in our eating and in our serving others.

"Eat and drink but waste not by excess, For Allah loves not the wasters" (Al-A'raf:31)

Finally I wish all of you Ramadan Mubarak and may Allah S.W.T forgive all of our sins and accept our prayers, our siam and all of our good deeds.

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