Mirko Petricevic, Record staff
Men break their daily Ramadan fast at the mosque in Waterloo during the first week of Ramadan. The mosque hosts the meal (called iftar) every evening during the holy month of Ramadan. Breaking fast at Ramadan
TheRecord.com - faith - Breaking fast at Ramadan
By Mirko Petricevic, Record staff
Church-basement suppers are few and far between these days, but the mosque in Waterloo is in the midst of dishing out loads of food for the body as well as the soul.
The mosque, on Erb Street West near Westmount Road North, has hosted meals for more than 100 guests every night for the past seven days. And food is supposed to be dished out after sunset each night for the next three weeks — roughly 30 dinners in 30 days — as Muslims mark the holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan, which began after the sighting of the new moon on Friday, Aug. 21, is a month of increased piety and prayer for Muslims.
Observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn (more than an hour before sunrise) to sunset during Ramadan.
As the sun dipped toward the horizon on Tuesday evening earlier this week, the Waterloo mosque’s parking lot filled up.
More than 90 men entered the glass-domed mosque and doffed their shoes just inside the door before descending the steps to a basement prayer hall. About 10 women gathered in a separate prayer hall on the main level.
In the basement floor, half a dozen swaths of plastic had been set with bottles of water and plates of dates, muffins and pieces of watermelon. The men settled into places on either side of the makeshift tables, sat cross-legged and chatted quietly. Despite their hunger pangs, nobody touched the food or water within easy reach. Instead, they waited as the hands of the wall clock ticked toward sunset.
At 8:11 p.m. the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer echoed over loudspeakers inside the mosque and the men, almost in unison, reached for the dates, cracked open bottles of water and slaked a day’s worth of thirst.
But that was only the appetizer. After ingesting only a few morsels, they stood up and climbed the stairs to the main prayer hall.
A delicious meal would be served, but not until after prayers.
During Ramadans throughout the past three decades, the Waterloo mosque has been a place where observant Muslims have gathered to end their daily fasts by taking part in a meal-and-prayer practice called “iftar.”
So far this year, more than 100 people have participated each evening. That number will double or triple in the next few weeks as adherents spend more time in the mosque as Ramadan winds down and Muslim students returning to study at Waterloo’s two universities drop by to share in the communal meals.
The holy month is a time for increased charity, so many people volunteer to provide food for the iftar meals. Numerous groups of women, about half a dozen in each crew, volunteer to cook meals for 150 people on most nights. Some donors choose to pay for a catered meal.
Other volunteers serve the meals and clean up afterward, said Nevine El-Gendy, who is co-ordinating the iftar food preparation at the mosque.
People also donate money for food baskets for the needy and volunteer to “adopt” a Muslim family that’s new to Canada, El-Gendy said, helping them find local Muslim shops as wells as offering food, clothing and companionship.
“This month, they are very generous,” El-Gendy said.
It might be against human nature for people living in a land of plenty to forgo food. But for Muslims, fasting is a way to feel empathy for poor people, she said.
“No matter if you’re rich or you’re poor, you will have all the same . . . feeling,” El-Gendy said.
Fasting, prayer and acts of charity performed during the holy month earn Muslims more credits in heaven after they die, she said.
“The rewards are multiplied in the month of Ramadan,” she said.
People are also generous because helping fellow Muslims builds unity in the community, she added.
While the mosque has buzzed with activity most evenings during Ramadan, it’s probably going to get a lot busier. In addition to serving more students, more adherents are expected to spend a lot more time praying at the mosque during the last 10 nights of the month.
About a dozen men will stay in the house of worship all day and all night for the last 10 days. Others will stay for a day or two.
Islam teaches that Ramadan is the month, in 610 AD, during which the angel Gabriel began revealing God’s word to the Prophet Muhammad. The revelations continued for 23 years and were eventually written and compiled in the holy book known as the Qur’an.
Muslims believe Gabriel delivered the first revelation on an odd-numbered night — the 21, 23, 25, 27 or 29 — during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
Rewards in heaven are multiplied for prayers performed during what is called the Night of Power.
It’s a night the Qur’an calls “better than a thousand months” for prayers to be heard by God.
But because the exact date remains a mystery, some people spend more time at the mosque just to make sure they get the full benefit of praying on the Night of Power.
Most of the men participating in iftar at the Waterloo mosque on Tuesday seemed to be from Middle Eastern and African countries.
Ahmed Khalifa and Ahmed Bayoumy, both studying electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo, sat opposite each other and tucked into a tub of a spicy chicken and rice from a Kitchener restaurant.
“We’re grad students. We don’t have time to cook,” Bayoumy said with a laugh.
Observing Ramadan in Canada is quite different from practising in a Muslim-majority country where “you can feel Ramadan every second — day and night,” Bayoumy said.
“You can feel it in the streets,” Khalifa added.
Workplaces close early each day and teachers give students a break on their homework. As the sun sets, large groups of people congregate in homes to break the fast with family and friends. Streets are brightly lit and people spill onto the festive avenues.
So instead of breaking the fast alone many single Muslims, and Muslims who are new to Waterloo, flock to the mosque for iftar.
But Khalifa and Bayoumy said they wouldn’t go to the mosque for iftar back home in Egypt because those iftar meals are meant for travelers and poor people.
Aside from the lack of festivities, observing Ramadan can be more difficult in Canada, said Maiya Al-Ismaili, one of the women who attended the iftar at the Waterloo mosque this week.
In the Middle East, the sun usually doesn’t set any later than 7 p.m., said Al-Ismaili, who is originally from the state of Oman on the Arabian Peninsula.
So the longer summer days in Canada make the daily fast much longer.
“It’s a challenge,” she said.
Al-Ismaili also said it can be lonely having iftar at home in Canada.
In Oman, Al-Ismaili said she would be visiting her aunt’s house and sharing iftar with dozens of people.
“I have a large family,” she said.
Al-Ismaili said her mother will be coming to Canada for part of Ramadan this year.
“My cooking’s not half-bad,” she said outside the prayer hall where her iftar companions were finishing their meals.
Nevertheless, Al-Ismaili and her mother probably won’t break their fast at home.
“I think I’m gonna bring her here,” she firstname.lastname@example.org