As Ramadan draws to a close, Muslims begin to look back in reflection on the month of fasting. Each day, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims refrain from food and drink to commemorate Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran.
Once the sun sets, the daily fast comes to an end and the nightly meal, Iftar, begins. Do you know what to expect at an Iftar?
1. Arrive on time
Iftar is a regular breaking of the fast, and occurs exactly at the time of the sunset. If you happen to arrive late, you may miss the most important part of this Islamic tradition. So don’t do that!
2. Expect a crowd
Community is an important part of Ramadan. Breaking the fast and sharing food strengthens bonds between family and friends. Iftar is often a chance for people to host each other in their homes or gather together for a potluck in a local mosque.
3. Enjoy great food
Since Iftar translates from Arabic as “break fast,” you would be right to guess that the main event at a gathering is eating food. Following the tradition set by the prophet Mohammed, the fast is typically broken with dates and water. Be ready for lots of snacks, drinks, and sometimes even full course meals, but don’t start eating until the crowd breaks fast together.
Caring for others is a central theme of Ramadan. Some Muslims choose to give Iftar to others as a demonstration of this theme. The Islamic religious texts teach that blessings and rewards await those who show kindness to others, especially during Ramadan.
5. Prayer is prevalent
Shortly after breaking the fast with dates and water, Muslims pray the Maghrib. This is one of the five daily prayers recited throughout the year. Immediately following Iftar, Muslims recite additional night prayers called Tarawih. These prayers take place either in a mosque or the home, and sometimes last up to two hours.
6. The last breaking of the fast
After Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Fast Breaking. In the spirit of each nightly Iftar, this festival marks an end to the month of fasting. Though the festival takes different forms across the Muslim world, the day of Eid marks the end of one of the important five pillars of Islam, Ramadan, alongside faith, prayer, charity, and the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
On an unknown date between the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. a son was born to a king and queen just below the Himalayan foothills somewhere between the Indian-Nepalese border. The infant was named Siddhartha Gautama, “Siddhartha” meaning “he who achieves his aim.” The infant’s mother, the queen, died within a week of her baby’s birth.
After the queen’s passing, the king desired predictions about his infant son’s future and was told by sages that the child would grow up to either be a king or a spiritual leader. The king wanted his Siddhartha to become a king. In order to ensure that would happen, he took great measures to protect him from the realities of the world by secluding him in a palace and showering him with worldly pleasures. Though Siddhartha lived a very naïve and sheltered life, he was trained in archery, swordsmanship, wrestling, swimming, running, and anything that would prepare him to become a strong, brave and noble king.
It is believed that Siddhartha married around the age of sixteen and continued to live a protected, secluded life for an additional thirteen years. He and his wife, whom he affectionately called Gopa, had one child, a son.
In his late 20’s everything changed for Siddhartha when he finally convinced his father to allow him to venture beyond the palace walls. It was then that he first encountered a very old man. The princes’ charioteer explained to him that all men grow old. This new information enticed the prince to learn more about the outside world and he continued to arrange trips beyond the palace. Before long he had encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic, one who practices extreme forms of self-discipline. Siddhartha’s charioteer explained to him each condition of life. The prince was overcome by his new awareness of suffering and death. That very night he left the palace, his wife, and his child and rode far away, cut his long hair with his sword and replaced his fine clothing with that of an ascetic.
For six years he practiced the ascetic discipline, denying himself the most basic of indulgences such as food and water nearly to the point of death. This he did in an effort to better understand human suffering and to discover the meaning of life. During this time, he also investigated beliefs of all kinds and immersed himself in meditation and study. He was so dedicated to the ascetic lifestyle that five other ascetics with whom he practiced became his devout followers. Despite his passionate commitment to seek for answers, Siddhartha was disappointed when he couldn’t find what he was looking for.
One day, a young girl offered him a bowl of rice and Siddhartha accepted. He ate the rice, drank water and bathed in the Nairanjana river. His actions disenchanted his five followers who promptly left him. From his experience as an ascetic, he learned that a balance should be sought instead of a life of extremism. This lifestyle he called the “middle way,” or the “middle path.”
Siddhartha, still determined to find life’s meaning and having exhausted all outside methods for the answers he sought, sat beneath the Bodhi tree and finally looked within himself. After many days of intense meditation, he discovered enlightenment and became Buddha, or “the one who is awake.” He had finally found that everything he had been looking for had always been present and was accessible to anyone. For many weeks he basked in the liberating tranquility of his sacred experience and did not attempt to tell anyone. He felt that what had happened could not be fully described through words. Legend has it that Brahma, the king of the gods, encouraged him to try to share what he had learned, and so he did.
He began to teach others what are known as the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. He also shared three important realizations about reality 1) Everything is impermanent with the exception of Nirvana, which is a transcendent state free of suffering, desire and a sense of self. 2) The self doesn’t really exist. 3) Suffering results when people do not understand the first two realizations.
The 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path:
- Suffering exists.
- Suffering exists because of craving.
- Suffering can be ended.
- The eight-fold path is the way to end suffering:
- Right understanding
- Right intention
- Right action
- Right speech
- Right livelihood
- Right concentration
- Right mindfulness
- Right effort
Siddhartha Gautama spent the remaining forty-five years of his life teaching the Dharma, the name given to his teachings, and spreading it throughout northern India. His powerful example and influence live on today and is still leading people to experience enlightenment throughout the world. Buddhism is a beneficial practice that can easily coincide with most religious beliefs.
Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.
Photo by Chris Berry and BenRosePhotography
Interfaith friendship means finding common ground with others even when we differ in our beliefs. This requires clarity about our differences and charity across those differences. Religious differences are not trivial, like our preferences for sports teams or ice cream flavors. Rather, they concern the ultimate questions of existence, with serious implications for how we choose to live our lives.
The weight of religious differences means that I do not actually revere all the beliefs of my interfaith friends. I do not have “holy envy.” But I do have a genuine appreciation for these friends and their influence on my life. Let’s call it “deep gratitude.”
Respect for individuals can exist where beliefs diverge.
I have deep gratitude for the counsel and example of my dissertation advisor, Jeff Spinner-Halev. Jeff is Jewish, which means that his faith commitments differ from mine as a Christian. But we share academic commitments in what we write and how we write. Throughout my graduate work, Jeff demonstrated an ability to blend a commitment to excellence with a willingness not to take himself too seriously. But more than that, he never hid his faith or the obligations that flowed from it. To the contrary, Jeff’s integration of faith and work modeled for me the kind of scholar who bridges different worlds without neglecting any of them.
I like to think I’m a better husband and father from conversations with my Muslim friend, Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core. Despite our religious differences, Eboo and I experience common pressures in balancing travel and speaking engagements with family commitments. We have spoken together around the country and are currently co-teaching a class at Washington University. I always enjoy debating issues of pluralism and religious difference with him. But the defining moment of our friendship came during a walk around a park where we talked about our families. In that moment, and in many subsequent ones like it, Eboo encourages me as a person of faith and a human being to care for my family, to guard against pride, and to take seriously my own commitments.
My atheist friends challenge me with their honesty and eagerness in probing weighty questions. I won’t name these friends because they do not publicly identify as atheists. But they do not shy away from that label in our private conversations. I admire their willingness to articulate fear and uncertainty, which I sometimes find lacking in Christian friends who mask rather than confess their own doubts. This does not mean, however, that I think doubt and unbelief are good things. As a Christian whose hope is rooted in the life and death of Jesus, I wish that my atheist friends (and friends of other faiths) could share in that hope. But I value their depth of thought in our discussions about the difference between optimism and hope (the latter requires an object toward which it is directed). And I admire the integrity of their reasoning, though ultimately it can have the effect of leaving them without hope, absent a belief in God. This is a costly honesty, but honesty nonetheless, something that is missing in many of our social interactions. And their openness to share it with me signals trust, vulnerability—and friendship.
Interfaith friendships personify differences in a way that softens our assumptions and stereotypes. They allow us to experience charity that is rooted in relationships with real human beings. I do not think abstractly about Jews, Muslims, and atheists—I think of Jeff, Eboo, and other friends whom I have the privilege of knowing. And I thank God for each of them.
John Inazu is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.
Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.