Ramadan, Iftars and OBAT Helpers
The word “Iftar” represents sweet relief to a fasting Muslim. It is the culmination of a long day of going without food and water with a delicious variety of treats, juices and dates. It is a moment to look forward to and savor.
Muslims around the world fast during the holy month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. This period can get quite drawn out when Ramadan starts moving towards the longer summer days. The onset of Ramadan is determined by the lunar calendar and hence every year the month shifts back by about ten days. This year, Ramadan will begin around June 18th.
Traditionally, a fast is broken by eating a date and reciting the appropriate supplication prior to it. Depending on culture and tradition, a fast is usually broken by foods that have come to be associated specifically with this month. Some people go all out with fried food. Others nosh on healthier options such as refreshing fruit salads. Since one of the five prayers of the day, the Maghrib or sunset prayer needs to be offered at the iftar time as well, a lot of people prefer to break their fast with a date and some water, pray and then come back to eat at length. Others prefer to gratify their hunger and thirst entirely before heading for the prayer rug.
For people who have their fill to eat, Ramadan cultivates empathy- it is a reminder of what the less fortunate must feel like, going without food. This sacred month is not only for spiritual cleansing but is also a time for self-assessment and reflection, for focusing inwards, for praying and reading the Quran. It is an opportunity for letting the world around us get a little smaller and for a time being, fade into the backdrop of our otherwise busy lives. It is a time to simplify our lives, to let them be governed by the simple principles of kindness and charity, to make an extra effort to stay away from prohibited behavior and to follow the simple guidelines laid out by the holy book, Quran.
OBAT Helpers is one of those nonprofit organizations for whom Ramadan holds a special significance. The Urdu speaking community in Bangladesh, towards which all its welfare projects are directed, is Muslim. Food and clean water are a scarcity for them all year round. The festival of Eid-ul-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan is a time for celebration — for wearing new clothes and eating good food. Many of the Urdu-speakers are unable to participate in the celebration since the community struggles to survive and does not have recourse to basic necessities of living. Celebration of any kind in the camps is a tenuous concept.
For this reason, OBAT hosts an IFTAR every year. All and any of any faith or background are invited to participate in the ritual of breaking a fast. Around two hundred people get together at the ISNA headquarters to break their fast together and to learn about how their support and charity toward the Urdu speaking community has changed their lives. The IFTAR raises funds for the camp residents to ensure that they too can partake in the rituals of Ramadan and can celebrate like others when the month comes to an end.