World / Middle East

As Ramadan fasts end, the feasts begin

By Associated Press (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-22 07:35

For millions of Muslims abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, that first sip of water after a grueling fast is by far the most anticipated moment of the day.

In some parts of the world, Muslims fast for more than 20 hours a day, depending on when the sun rises and sets in their city. It is a physical and mental exercise meant to draw worshippers closer to God and increase their empathy for the poor.

But after a long day of fasting, the moment of payoff finally comes in the form of iftar, the evening meal. For more than 1,400 years, many Muslims have been breaking their fast in the same way the Prophet Muhammad did: with a handful of dates and a sip of water.

Next comes the feast.

Iftar is a social event as much as a gastronomical adventure. The celebratory meals give people reason to reconnect with friends and family as they gather around shared platters of food.

Many cultures also share in special culinary delights particular to the month of fasting. Across much of the Arab world, a juice made from sweet apricots is a staple of Ramadan iftars. In South Asia, yogurt-based drinks such as lassi are popular.

In Egypt, charities set up tables on street corners and under bridges for anyone to stop by and enjoy a free iftar. In the Persian Gulf region, community leaders and wealthy sheiks open their doors to their communities, inviting all to come by at any hour of the night for food, tea, coffee and conversation.

 As Ramadan fasts end, the feasts begin

A Syrian refugee family wait to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, near the Temporary Center for Immigrants in Melilla, Spain. Below is a close-up of their meal. Santi Palacios / Associated Press

(China Daily 07/22/2014 page10)

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