Fasting and feasting

Fasting and feasting

Sitting on the top floor of his home surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Syed Nasir Ahmed breaks the Ramadan fast while the moon peeps out of a cloudy Bangalore sky.

“Ramadan is not about starving yourself. It's about taking a step back, changing your routine, slowing down and reflecting upon your life. It is also a time to look back over the past year, and decide on where you are heading,” he explains as he and his family nibble on platters of freshly cut fruit, dates and assorted savories.

As is the tradition across the Muslim world, Ahmed’s family breaks its Ramadan fast with dates first before moving on to other traditional foods like Aash (a light nourishing broth of vegetables and pounded wheat).

“Dates are very nourishing and were recommended by the Prophet as the best way to break the fast,” says his son Wahid as the family prepares to continue their Ramadan tradition of praying immediately once the fast has been broken.

The prayers are held on the terrace led by a Pashimam as everyone joins in, including the young twins Suha and Farhan who are among the most enthusiastic and devout.
Nagina, one of the daughters of the household, says: “Although for 30 days from dawn to dusk, we abstain from food and drink that doesn’t mean food is out of the picture. Two main meals are eaten each day during Ramadan. The suhoor begins before dawn and the iftar breaks the fast at sunset. By fasting, we believe we can learn the discipline and self-restraint that Mohammed preached. Thus, fasting for us is a form of worship and a time of empowerment.”

“Growing up, we always broke the fast with a mix of fruit, plenty of fresh juices and cooling sherbats made from milk for hydration. This was followed by a platter of assorted snacks like samosas, pakoras, dahi vadas, sweets and a bowl of Aash. After prayers, there are often iftar parties held in each other’s homes with relatives, neighbours and friends joining in the meal and fellowship,” she explains.

“In addition to fasting, we avoid anything that is not religious and strive to keep our thoughts and actions in accordance with Islamic teachings. We read the Koran and say extra prayers every night. By the end of the month, the entire Koran has been read,” adds Nasir Ahmed.

Gulam Ali and his wife Nehla are a Shia-Sunni couple who observe Ramazan fasts along with the iftar celebrations quite religiously every year.

“Children from the age of seven start with a half day fast to acclimatise them to the routine but from the age of nine onwards, they generally fast very religiously everyday. It is a great form of discipline and the time when the family eats together in the morning and evening is very important for bonding,” says Nehala, who makes all the Ramadan specials like koftas and samosas, haleem and biryani along with the sweets to share with relatives and friends.

“The feasting is an important part of the rituals. Breaking the fast is generally done with family and friends at sunset which is a time of both fellowship and prayer. We start with dates or fruits and water, then go for our Namaz and have a large meal later in the evening maybe even going upto the popular eateries on Mosque Road which specialise in iftar food,” says Mustaq Ahmed, a businessman in the City.

“Iftar parties, unlike quiet family meals, are usually lavish affairs with all the popular dishes like fragrant mutton biryani, delicious kebabs and that all time favourite Haleem served with tempting desserts like Kubani ka Meeta and kheer,” adds Nagina.