Breaking the fast

2010-08-30 00:00

THE rows of women and girls bow, kneel and rise again in unison, like a row of young saplings bending before a strong wind. The lilting rise and fall of the Qur’an recited through the loudspeaker adds to the air of reverence and tranquillity.

It is evening prayers, or Isha, in the Soofie mosque on Muskwana Street after members have broken their day’s fast. Although many people know that Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in the holy month of Ramadan, few know much about the rituals practised to begin and end the fast every day.

I was privileged to visit a local Muslim home one evening recently. While the men were at prayers in mosque, the women gathered to pray in a lounge as there were so many of us. Normally they would have gathered in the prayer area set aside. After hearing the Azaan or call to prayer they broke the fast with Iftar or breakfast: dates and water, before performing Salaatul Maghrib or sunset prayers. Breaking the fast with dates and water is a tradition of the Prophet (PBUH). Date products of different kinds are consumed: dried, stuffed with nuts and rolled in honey, covered in chocolate or, many people’s favourite, fresh dates, specially flown in from Medina.

Iftar during Ramadan is enjoyed as a community event, with Muslims gathering to break their fast together. My hosts explained that some men take food into mosques and enjoy a shared meal there. The time for Iftar is just after sunset.

Once the men returned from mosque, family and friends gathered to share in a full evening meal. One of the features of this is haleem, a thick, nutritious and sustaining broth cooked specially during Ramadan and served with naan bread. Rose syrup milk shake and savouries like samoosas, chilli bites and pastry pies are other main dishes in this meal.

It is well known that Muslims pray five times a day. During Ramadan, these prayers are intensified. After supper I went with the family to Isha prayers. During Ramadan, Muslims perform another prayer called Taraweeh Salaah after Isha prayers. This involves the reciting of about one chapter of the Qur’an, so that the whole book is recited and heard during the month of fasting. The person leading this prayer is called a H aafizul Qur’ran. One who has memorised the entire Qur’an is called a Hafiz. This is said to be one of the ways the Qur’an is protected from any alterations.

Ramadan is a month of increased charitable activities. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever gives to a fasting person something for Iftar to eat, his sins will be forgiven and he will be saved from the fire of hell.” This reward is even for a person who gives another fasting person just a date or a drink of water or milk for Iftar.

In this regard, the preparation of haleem, the special Ramadan broth, has become an opportunity to practise charity during Ramadan. Groups of people gather together to prepare dheks or huge pots of haleem with ingredients donated or paid for by different families or individuals in the community. Anyone is then welcome to share in the soup.

Dheks of haleem are prepared at an Islamic relief centre in Copesville, to benefit the many families in the area affected by HIV/Aids. Most mosques in the city prepare haleem every Sunday afternoon and serve it to anyone who wants some, including the vulnerable and needy.

Another practice associated with Ramadan is the distribution of Zakaat, charity or alms-giving, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Financially able adults are encouraged to give 2,5 % of their wealth to the poor every year.

In preparation for the day’s fast, Muslims rise before dawn to eat a meal called Sehri and say Fajr or pre-dawn prayers, which must be performed before sunrise. As a meal they reportedly favour something solid and long-lasting like oats porridge or an egg and fruit.

When the last 10 days of Ramadan begin, some Muslims devote their time completely to the remembrance of the Almighty and stay in the mosque. This worship is called itika f or retreat.

Commenting on the experience of Ramadan fasting, Abdullah Saeed, a local resident, said: “Our beloved Prophet (PBUH), said: ‘Almighty says, Every deed of the children of Adam (PBUH) is for him, except fasting. Verily, fasting is for me [Almighty], and I shall [personally] apportion out the reward for it’.

“It is further reported that for a fasting person, there are two great pleasures. One is at the time of breaking fast and the other is when he or she will meet the Lord on the day of judgment.”




1 packet of haleem mix

500 g of cubed mutton or chicken

2 teaspoons crushed garlic and ginger

1 medium onion, chopped

2 green chillies, slit

3 tablespoons of oil

Mint, shallot and fresh coriander leaves to garnish



• Boil haleem mix in two litres of boiling water on low heat.

• Heat oil and braise onions in a separate pot. Add chicken or mutton with ginger and garlic together with chillies.

• When meat or chicken begins to stick, add to boiled mixture.

Cook for approximately 1,5 to two hours.

• Add a packet of oats and some water if necessary.

• Cook until required consistency is obtained. Garnish with greens.


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