Reflections of a Non-Muslim Fasting: First Libyan Iftar
Assalamu Alaykum everyone, and happy 11 days!
So far so good on the Ramadan front, especially now that the weather finally cooled down today in Washington D.C. (Alhamdulillah!). There has been a heat wave here in the northeast for the past week, and local Ramadan observers were faced with quite the challenge.
Last Thursday, the fasting struggle was real. The heat index was a rearing 107 degrees Fahrenheit and I was working outside for my job from10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was during that time that I realized why people can live longer without food than water. It sounds dramatic, but try working under those conditions and you’ll quickly realize too!
I was tempted, VERY tempted, to break my fast and grab one of the beautiful blue Gatorades that my co-workers were enjoying. But when I began to feel myself falter, I remembered again the less fortunate. I remembered the people who are forced to work under similar conditions ALL day, every day. I remembered reading about the children younger than myself living in countries with the highest water poverty, and I felt compelled to finish. If they could do it, than so could I.
Later that day, I was rewarded with a wonderful iftar at the Tagouri household. When I originally received the invitation I thought I was getting a rare glimpse into a Muslim family’s home, and instead I was welcomed with open arms as one of their own.
I distinctly remember covering the notion of hospitality in my Arab Culture class because an entire one-day session was devoted to it. In the Middle East, it is not just a duty to host a guest but an honour.
This mentality has deep roots in the Middle Eastern world. It developed from an area where a guest was a sight for sore eyes, for he had trekked through the hostile deserts and harsh environments to arrive at the family doorstep.
Whether the visitor was a long time friend or an unknown traveller, he was treated with as much hospitality as any family member. The popular Arabic greeting “Ahlan wa-sahlan” translates roughly as, “you’re like my family so come and take it easy”.
While nowadays that may not resemble the typical household guest, that mentality still remains strong in the Arab culture. And I was most certainly welcomed like family into the Tagouri household.
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with hugs and warm welcomes from everyone. Everyone from the matriarch of the family to the youngest of the daughters insisted that I relax and enjoy my stay as a guest, and it was clear that these were core family values.
I learned a lot about Middle Eastern culture and Islam from that evening. I held a Qur’an for the first time while attempting to read from it (and was promptly shown up by the youngest Tagouri sister). I watched everyone make dua (supplication/prayer) in that pivotal minute before breaking fast with a date and water at maghrib. I watched the family gather for maghrib prayer in the living room, and was impressed with how quickly they assembled and fell right into place. I suppose with 5 prayers a day it would be hard not to have down to a science.
When it was time for iftar, I found out that Mrs. Tagouri had prepared an array of home-cooked Libyan dishes for me to sample. Her generosity and master cooking skills had me looking for the nearest wheelbarrow, since surely I couldn’t stand with such a full stomach.
After iftar, young and old alike gathered in the living room. We played games and shared laughs together. It reminded me of the traditional Latin American familia, and again I was reminded of how different cultures share so many similarities at the root of it all.
Until next time,
The triangles are samosas and the cylinders are veggie booreek. Easy finger food- everyone grabbed one of these at Maghrib (after the dates, of course).
Clockwise from top left: Fatoosh (typical Middle Eastern salad made with bits of toasted pita bread and veggies); Mahshi (stuffed vegetables, in this case onions and bell peppers, filled with rice and meat); Macroona Embowkha (spice and seasoned vermicelli noodles with chicken, almond slivers and raisins)
Atayifs, a sweet dish of fried mini pancakes with cheese or nuts inside. These are particularly popular during Ramadan because of the way they resemble the half moon (for those who don’t know understand the symbolism, Ramadan’s start and end date is based on the lunar cycle). They remind me of empanadas de queso, a similarly popular South American dish! From one culture to another :)
And finally, kanafeh- my new favourite dessert! It’s an Arab cheese pastry, just slightly crunchy on the outside and drizzled in a sugar syrup. It’s also commonly sprinkled with pistachios. What’s not to
Shorba Libiya, previously mentioned in the previous blog as the nectar of Gods. Somehow, it manages to be that much better with a squeezed lemon slice.
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