BREAKING FAST AND STEREOTYPES
This website connects people of all backgrounds for Ramadan — and it’s catching on
Mariam Shirazi believes food is the best entry point to learning about another culture, so during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan she’s been inviting strangers to share a meal with her.
“Food is a universal language and a great way for people of different cultures and backgrounds to bond,” the 25-year-old master’s student tells me at her home over Iftar, the meal eaten at sundown to mark the end of a fasting day.
Wanting to dispel Muslim stereotypes and educate others on Ramadan — the month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn to sundown — Shirazi created Experience Ramadan, a site that lets people around the world sign up to attend or host an Iftar. One week into Ramadan, she had already connected 120 people across North America with Muslim hosts.
I arrived at her family’s house in Markham at 8 p.m. along with another couple who heard about Experience Ramadan through their church. The kitchen is aflutter with activity as Shirazi’s siblings and parents prepare platters of Pakistani specialties.
The affable host was inspired to create Experience Ramadan a day before the holiday started, when a guest speaker at her mosque spoke about the importance of honouring neighbours, whether close friends or strangers. She created the site later that night and spread the word over social media, not expecting such a huge response.
We eat, and the family answers my questions about Ramadan. The daily fast not only includes food but also water, and observers have to abstain from vices such as gossiping. Fasting isn’t mandatory: children, the elderly and those with medical conditions often don’t partake.
In between the appetizers, we follow Shirazi’s family to the basement to watch them perform nightly prayers. We then head back for the main.
By now, it’s closing in on 11 p.m., and in four hours the family has to get up for suhoor, the meal eaten before the break of dawn.
Marking the end of Ramadan is Eid-al-Fitr, a holiday gathering of families, friends, food and music. I asked Shirazi to share her favourite Eid recipe. She prepared what she considers to be her essential Eid dish, a milky, custard-like dessert mixed with vermicelli, nuts and dried fruit called sheer khurma.
“It’s like turkey on Thanksgiving,” she says.
The dessert was the perfect way to end the night as we quickly said our good-nights so the Shirazi family could get some rest before dawn.
While Experience Ramadan is still in its infancy, Shirazi would like to one day expand the site beyond Ramadan to different religions and cultures.
“I said to my friend at the start that if I could just to get one family to host one person, I would have accomplished my goal,” she says. “This has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I’m glad people can learn as much about my culture as I have about theirs.”
Mariam Shirazi, Madiha Sultan and Yusuf Shirazi put the inishing touches on some dahi puri. TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE
Writer Karon Liu was invited to attend an Iftar dinner at the home of Mariam Shirazi, who launched a website where Muslims host guest of all faiths and backgrounds. Dishes included, top to bottom: sheer khurma, chicken pakora, dahi puri, mantoo dumplings and fruit salad.