Maybe I’ve been looking for these, but news reports in the past few weeks about people observing the holy month of Ramadan have been reassuring. It’s as though major news outlets have finally realized that the world’s second largest religion actually has beautiful spiritual rituals and traditions that connect people all over the world. NPR reporter Sarah Ventre’s story on Here and Now personalized the act of fasting in the Arizona heat. Muslims from the Phoenix area shared stories of what it meant to them to be observing Ramadan, in spite of the desert heat. Many mentioned the iftar meal for breaking fast at the end of the day. And they talked about the dates.
The date, in fact, is a symbol of Ramadan and the iftar meal in particular. By tradition, it is the customary food for breaking the day-long fast. Last year, the New York Times Food Section had a great article explaining why. The date is an ancient food, mentioned in the Bible and the Quaran. Varieties are grown in many regions of the world and can easily be shipped and can be stored for long periods of time. The date is also a great source of quick energy and nutrients so it makes a perfect food for someone who hasn’t eaten for a number of hours.
Muslims all over the globe partake in a great variety of dishes and recipes for using the date, and many varieties are quite tasty eaten pitted and whole. The Times article quotes a cook and blogger who says that having an iftar without dates would be like Thanksgiving without a Turkey.
But another important reason for the date is that by tradition, the Prophet Mohammed always broke his fast with dates and water. So partaking dates becomes a ritual celebrating and honoring the Muslim faith, at a time when family and friends are gathered at the most holy time of the year. Considering the humble date may be an opportunity to appreciate something very beautiful in a faith tradition many Americans are just beginning to understand.
This Iftar meal from Morocco is from "Ramblings of an Arabic Student" blogpost from 2015.