This web­site con­nects peo­ple of all back­grounds for Ra­madan — and it’s catch­ing on

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - NEWS -

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

Car­los osorio/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.

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