Breaking your fast with others is one of the most beautiful parts of the Ramadan experience and hosting people over for Iftar is a regular part of Ramadan that contributes greatly to having a sense of belonging and community, writes Re: News contributor Farida Refaat. 

Palestinian-Lebanese couple Ayham and Hana hosted their friends for Iftar in their Auckland home over the weekend before the holy month comes to an end. The couple spoke to Farida about the sense of community Iftar brings during Ramadan, and what the holy month means for them. 

Ayham and Hana were both living in the Middle East when they started fasting for the first time during Ramadan. 

Ramadan is the holy month and it’s when Muslims fast each day from sunrise until sunset as a way to practise self-restraint from eating, drinking and bad habits - ultimately, it’s an opportunity for reflection and self-improvement. 

Iftar is the fast-breaking meal that takes place at sunset every day and it’s also a time to perform one of the five daily prayers. 

But it’s also an opportunity to connect with loved ones and the couple always open their doors to whānau and friends during this time.  

How it started

For Ayham, there was a fun competitiveness that came with fasting.

“My friend told me he’s going to start fasting half-days. We started to one-up each other, so I told him well I’m going to fast the whole day,” Ayham says.

“From that day until now I swear, I have never missed a fast. Not when I travel, not when I play football, not for cross country. Never.”

During the first week of Ramadan, Hana preferred that no one talk to her. 

She says she would get frustrated easily and irritated. 

“But after I realise that’s what’s happening, I’m like, seriously? All this just because of food? Am I really that dependent on it? It makes you reflect deeply and once you realise that you feel better.”

People may not expect that Ramadan is one of the most enjoyable times of the year for Muslims, because on paper it seems really hard. 

Fasting has been shown to have several positive impacts on your health, helping with things like weight loss, lowering blood sugar levels and, reducing stress and more. 

But there’s a certain stigma that exists when people hear about Ramadan.

“When you say you’re fasting for the gym or doing intermittent fasting, or you have a plan you need to follow, people are very accepting,” Hana says.

“But when you say it’s for religious purposes that’s when people look at you like you’re ridiculous. It’s accepted from a health perspective but not a religious one.”

For Ayham, fasting gives him more time and other aspects of his life become better. 

“My football team's performance is so much better. Majority of us are fasting and I see that we play better, we play harder, we have more strength, we have more clarity. I love it.”

And he says it’s even better to fast with Hana - who he has been married to for just under two years. 

“There were days in the past where I used to normally break my fast alone, so now it’s fun to be here with Hana. Even if we eat something so silly like cornflakes or 2 minute noodles. We have so much fun being together. It’s not about the food.” 

‘When it’s time to eat, the rule is we have to sit together’

The couple’s family traditions for Iftar are carrying on in their new household. 

Hana says in her family, they would focus heavily on making duaa (prayer). 

“More than any other time of day, our connection with God is a lot higher during that time.” 

And “when it’s time to eat,” she says, “the rule is we all have to sit together.” 

Ayham also highlights the tradition of breaking your fast with dates, explaining why so many Muslims do this. 

“In my family, we all hand out dates to each other. We wait for everyone to have one with them, then we eat at the same time,” he says.

“It’s the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnah means the way of life that the prophet lived. We strive to be like him in our lives so following his sunnah is important for Muslims.”

Ramadan in Aotearoa

Hana says that Ramadan in Aotearoa works well because the values of Te Ao Māori and align really beautifully with Muslim values. 

“Kindness is a really important part of Islam and a huge part of kiwi culture.” 

“People here are so approachable,” Hana says. 

“Smiling at someone is a form of charity in Islam, which is something we regularly do here in Aotearoa. The importance of whānau is also a big one. Manaakitanga too - being generous, respectful and hospitable. These are really beautiful qualities shared across both ways of life.”

For Ayham, being in the minority of people who observe Ramadan in Aotearoa is an opportunity to educate people and explain why Muslims do what they do.

“One person thought that we fast for the entire month without breaking our fast. Habibi, we would die if that were the case.” 

Hana and Ayham believe humans are highly adaptable and that anyone can do Ramadan if they want to. 

The key, Hana says, is in the company. 

“Don’t try it by yourself. Always try to find some other Muslims who are doing it together and you’re going to have the time of your life,” she says.  

“It’ll feel so easy. After some time, you will really get the hang of it. It teaches you so much about yourself and your capability to improve yourself.”.  

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