During the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world refrain from imbibing in food or water from dusk until dawn (yes, you read that right, not even any water!). The day starts with a meal before sunrise, known as suhoor, and ends with iftar—a celebratory ritual when families and friends from the community share a meal at sunset. This holy month is a time for self-restraint and focusing on the spiritual, as well as being charitable and empathizing with those who may not have access to food or shelter. Keeping with this spirit, it is also a time for opening up your home to extended family, friends, and community–Muslim or non-Muslim—those who are fasting, and those who are not.
As per Islamic tradition, the fast is broken with a date and water, but the real feasting starts when everyone gathers around the table with their family, friends, and community (regardless of religious background) to share food.
Remember that no iftar table is the same; every iftar table is diverse and a reflection of one’s culture and heritage. So the menu can vary from family to family. But there are a few things you should know before attending your first iftar.
Bear in mind that your host has been fasting from sunrise, and they must break their fast punctually, at sunset. There is no flexibility with that. So be on time, and not fashionably late. (In fact, if your host is comfortable with it, try to be there 15-20 minutes beforehand. Upon your arrival, your host may seem a bit harried while getting the iftar meal ready, so ask if you can help out.
Bring a gift or something to add to the iftar table
This isn’t an obligation–but really, who doesn’t like an extra dish at the table? You could ask your host what they will be preparing, and then think of what would complement the menu. In case your host hasn’t decided on a final menu, fresh seasonal fruit or a bouquet of flowers are always welcome! Remember that many Muslims eschew alcohol and pork, so steer clear of bringing those as gifts.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not fasting
Remember: iftar is all about bringing people together, everyone is welcome! Enjoy the festivities. If you happen to get there before it is time to break the fast, your host will offer you a drink, you can accept it, it isn’t impolite. But you can also wait for them to break their fast before you eat and drink. Remember, your host wants you to feel like you are one of them, so they won’t be offended, either way.
Do your homework
Rather than bombarding your host with questions about Ramadan and iftar customs, do your homework beforehand. Talk to other Muslims about their rituals, and do as much research as you can. Though customs can vary, iftar usually starts with a date and water, after which those who were fasting go off to a quiet area in the home, for 10-15 minutes, to say their prayers. Upon their return, the feasting begins. That can vary from culture to culture. Remember that there is another prayer post-iftar, known as tarawih, which many Muslims partake in, and may leave for the mosque. So do ask your host before you go for iftar if they plan to do that. That way, you will have a clear start and end time to your iftar party.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Don’t ask someone why they are not fasting, or why someone may not say their prayers. Respect their choices, and don’t pry. Remember that there is no singular narrative for the way a Muslim looks, behaves, dresses, talks, or eats. As long as you don’t come with any presumptions, you will have the best evening. Ramadan is a time of sharing dishes, bringing people together, and breaking bread together.
Lastly: don’t forget to enjoy the meal, and help to clear the table!