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Ramadaan helps forge strong ties

Zeyneb Seker prepares dinner to serve as, iftar, the meal to break the fast after sunset during Ramadaan. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency

Zeyneb Seker prepares dinner to serve as, iftar, the meal to break the fast after sunset during Ramadaan. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency

Published Jun 7, 2018

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‘How many minutes left?” This is what 7-year old Eymen Engul kept asking while his family and friends were preparing for iftar. His mother, Ayshe Engul said though Eymen was too young to fast as part of Ramadaan, he did want to try.

Eymen was not the only one excited about the iftar - or breaking fast - meal, served at sunset when Muslims end their daily fast.

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During the month of Ramadaan, observant fasting Muslims eat only two meals a day, the suhoor, a healthy meal served before dawn, and the iftar, enjoyed after sunset.

Around the table at this particular iftar was a mix of people including a rabbi and a Dutch Reformed (Church) minister, enjoying a traditional breaking of the fast meal at a Muslim home.

Iftars are used to help break down barriers between people - with a number arranged by embassies and Muslim organisations.

This one was arranged by the Turquoise Harmony Institute, with families offering to bring people from other cultural groups into their homes to experience their traditions.

“This is about sharing our food, religion and culture with other people,” Zeyneb Seker said.

For this year’s Ramadaan period, over 80 South African families have signed up to share an iftar.

“There has been a great turnout and we had to cut off at some point because we don’t have enough Turkish families (to host),” she said.

Zeyneb has been in the country for more than five years and admitted that there were advantages to fasting in South Africa, where Ramadaan falls in winter, when it gets dark early.

In Turkey, she said, Ramadaan occurs during summer days - and the fast can last for 14 hours.

For the iftar, Seker prepared traditional Turkish food like içli köfte - a dish made with bulgur wheat and stuffed with minced meat - and pide -Turkish flatbreads, among other treats.

Engul said the iftars were particularly important for Muslim families from Turkey living in South Africa. “These dinners give them a chance to get to know South African culture.

"They are looking for a sense of community and finding it here,” she said.

For Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked of the Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue attending iftar helps him reconnect with his Middle Eastern roots.

“Jews, Christians and Muslim can all live in harmony. Hospitality and friendship can, in the long term, trump the idea of hate. We can create transformation via human encounter,” Shaked said.

One of the things he missed about iftar in Israel was the culture of food sharing.

“People would be fasting for the whole day and after work they all sit together and eat. There would be rows and rows of tables in the street with people eating and having a good time.”

And, the food was wonderful, he said.

For Andre Bartlett, a dominee and chair of the South African Council of Churches in Gauteng, the iftar is part of an ongoing love for Turkey, a country he has visited a number of times.

“I believe it is important that we develop respect and understanding of each other.

"Ramadaan is a special time for Muslims (and) it is also important that we experience their culture,” Bartlett said.

He said he would like to invite Muslim friends to share in his next Easter dinner.

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