Host an Iftar for Your Neighbor

A portrait from Brooklyn and The World

Looking for a special way to honor Muslim neighbors and friends this Ramadan?

Or maybe you are curious about Ramadan and/or other Muslim traditions but want a more nuanced answer than what you’ll find on Wikipedia?

Why not invite friends or neighbors over to your house to break the fast together and let them tell you how and why Ramadan is so important to them.

All it really requires is some dates and water and a welcoming heart.  But with a tad more preparation, you’ll have an iftar that yields memories you and your new (or old!) friend will cherish forever.

iftar table with homemade maamouls, dates, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables.

This Ramadan at Cultures Capsules, we are celebrating various Ramadan traditions around the world.  We also shared the reflections of one family in Brooklyn, including memories and recipes, and we have a few more in the works.  If you are inspired to share your story, contact us here!


How to Host an Iftar

Iftar is the breaking of the fast.  During Ramadan, this happens only after the time of the official sundown. This is also the adhan (call to prayer) is made. At this time, people observing the fast may have a date (or 3) to break their fast, just as the Prophet Muhammed once did. They may also want to pray at that time.

iftar table with store-bought maamouls, dates and fresh fruit
you can also buy maamouls at your favorite middle eastern or asian grocery around the time or ramadan. these are from sahadis in brooklyn.

Contrary to what you may assume, when sundown comes there isn’t a gorge-fest to make up for a day of fasting. 

Friends tell me that not only is it tradition to break the fast slowly but it is the after many hours of fasting the body wants a slower introduction to food, starting with dates, and water, tea or juice. It’s all the stomach can handle at first.

After some time (and likely prayer), a small meal will follow. These meals are often soups or breakfast-type foods, both of which vary according to family customs and/or geography.

Your guests may be headed to the mosque for prayers and community meals, or to another home for a meal, and you should discuss this with them beforehand so everyone’s expectations are in line.

Beyond water and dates (and maybre juice, tea and snacks or a small meal), it’s really just about welcoming your new friend and asking them about their traditions.

As W. Kamau Bell would tell you, ask the dumb (but respectful) questions, instead of making up answers or going with answers that other people made up (appropriately, he said this in his “What I Learned from Muslims in Small-Town America” episode of United Shades of America filmed in Dearborn and Hamtramck, Michigan.)  Watch it if you haven’t already!


Recitation of Quran

Gorgeous audio recitation of Quran, free via Spotify

This beautiful Quran recitation by Sheikh Mishary Rashid Alfasay, available on Spotify for free.

The recitation is sung and it is gorgeous. 

If you haven’t listened to the Quran being recited, you are in for a treat.  Even without understanding the words, we think you will feel the powerful peacefulness of it.  Take a second to put it on before you continue reading.

You put it on, right? How beautiful…


Iftar Spread

Dates are recommended to break one’s fast during Ramadan, so be sure to have some on hand. It is not only Prophetic tradition, but also provides the body with sugar by helping restore low blood sugar after fasting all day.

Juice, especially freshly-squeezed, is appreciated too.  That’s all is really needed, especially if your guests plan to head elsewhere for prayers and/or dinner after breaking their fast.

If you expect your guests to stay longer, you may ask if they want to have a meal as well.  They may want to or they may plan to have a larger meal at home with family or friends later in the night.  One option for a quick but delicious soup sometimes eaten at Ramadan is this recipe for Shorbet Adas (lentil soup).

Some local friends from Yemen shared these delicious sambusas (some made with potato and peas, and some with beef) that they made.

homemade sambusas from my friend aasma, during ramadan 2018

Since my very first inquiry into Ramadan food traditions, ma’amouls have been my favorite iftar treat to make at home, bring to iftars, and also just give as gifts. With the spiced date paste at the center, they take on a symbolic gesture, in addition to just being delicious.

homemade maamouls brought to a nigerian iftar.
homemade maamouls brought to a nigerian iftar.

You may be able to find them easily at this time of year if you have Middle Eastern or groceries or specialty bakeries around. But if you have the patience to make them, you will be rewarded with a lovely Ramadan treat


Meghna’s Ma’amouls

For the ma’amoul, I referred to several recipes and ultimately went off on my own. I also DOUBLED the batch below.  This should make about 30 cookies, which is enough to eat and also share some. 

plate of delicious maamouls, freshly made
freshly-made plate of maamouls
making ma'amouls, stuffing the spiced date in the center.
making ma'amouls, wrapping the dough around the spiced date center, and adding a design on the top using a stamp.
making ma’amouls, wrapping the dough around the spiced date center, and adding a design on the top using a stamp.


Paper Lanterns

If you want to further get in the spirit and beautify your home to welcome your guest. Head to the bottom of this portrait for the simple tutorial.

homemade lanterns to celebrate ramadan

Ramadan Mubarak! Happy Ramadan!