I’ve always been curious about what it’s like to fast all day long for Ramadan and then break the fast with an Iftar, or evening meal.
Luckily, I can explore my curiosity as part of my job as the arts and culture reporter for Michigan Radio and bring back the information and stories I’ve learned to our listeners.
She became my tour guide when I visited the center for what I’m calling for my “Ramadan 101.”
Ramadan is a holy month in the Muslim tradition.
Its members are required to fast and abstain from intimate relations. The idea is to reflect on your faith and life and develop empathy for people who are less fortunate. The Muslim faith also encourages people to be generous, especially during Ramadan.
Meet the kitchen crew
When I met up with Ahmed at the Center she first introduced me to the kitchen crew.
They were working hard to feed hundreds of people at the evening’s meal with a combination of Arabic home cooking and American style dishes. Throughout the night I met the Center’s leaders and staff as well as many Muslims who had arrived for the evening services and meal.
A couple of things really struck me:
1) The people who come to the Islamic Center of Detroit are from all over the world.
When I met the six cooks in the kitchen, their origins were from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Kuwait. And that’s just a sampling. There are many practitioners from African nations, as well as people with American roots.
Ahmed told me the kitchen crew has to consider this global mix when they’re cooking the food, because the taste buds for different cultures vary tremendously, and people have strong feelings about their food.
Some cultures love their dishes spicy, while others prefer a mild style of cooking. Sometimes, the debate of how many jalapenos to add to the chicken and rice dish, known as maqluba, can get pretty heated.
2) I experienced something Ahmed likes to call “famous Arab hospitality,” throughout the night.
Cook Sana El-Hajj Mousa made Ahmed and myself a special fruit juice of lemons, oranges, and honey to the break the fast and handed it to us secretively in the kitchen, when everyone else was breaking their fast with dates and water. The drink tasted like a sour, bright lemonade.
Later that night, head cook Amal Nofal hooked us up with a special pot of her famous Turkish coffee and explained to me how she made it.
People also approached me over and over again to say hello and to welcome me to the Center.
Many times, they spoke limited or no English. That didn’t stop them from asking me in Arabic about what I was doing, and from telling me about their experience of Ramadan and fasting and also sharing stories about their families and lives.
When I asked Ahmed what she meant by Arab hospitality she told me this story.
“It just goes back. In the Arabian Peninsula, if somebody trespasses on your property, you don’t break their leg or kick them out. You say, ‘Hey! Come in, and here’s the meal!’ You pretty much give them a drink, make them settle down, relax from the sun’s heat, and then you make them join you for dinner or whatever meal or day it is, that they happen to have trespassed on.”
The Islamic Center of Detroit has an open door policy for anyone and invites them to visit the center and to come experience an Iftar with other people.
You can find more information about the center by clicking here.
Ramadan ends on Wednesday, July 6.