Ramadan is a special time of year for more than one billion Muslims throughout the world. April 12 marked the beginning of the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, when it is tradition for Muslims in good health to express their faith by fasting. 

For an entire month, believers completely abstain from food and drink, even water, from sunup to sundown. It is a time of intensive worship and devotion, one that deepens our love for God and for each other.

It is also a time of outreach. Each day’s fast is broken at sunset with an evening meal called an “iftar dinner.” This is one of the central experiences of Ramadan — when as Muslims we gather with friends and family after the day’s discipline with a renewed sense of charity and gratitude. 

Yetkin Yildirim

COVID precautions, however, mean that iftar dinners will look a little different this year. Traditionally, these meals have been occasions for hospitality. Muslims host their friends and neighbors at home or gather together for a potluck to break the fast together. But with the city of Austin, for example, still at Stage 3 of its COVID risk guidelines, many are approaching these Ramadan gatherings with a wise sense of caution. 

All year, families have sacrificed to keep each other safe. Communities have rallied to protect their most vulnerable members and foregone personal comforts for the sake of each other. These are the values of hospitality and service that Ramadan encourages in Muslims, and it wouldn’t be right to betray them now by hosting large in-person gatherings.

So, like so many other religious gatherings over the past year, iftar dinners have gone online.

Mosques are finding ways to deliver food to their attendees so that people can share a meal via video chat. And groups like the Austin Dialogue Institute are hosting virtual iftar dinners that bring people from many different faith traditions together online. It isn’t a perfect substitute, but it’s a way to keep showing the hospitality that’s so important to Ramadan, especially after such a difficult year.

COVID has brought many losses, but one of the most deeply felt has been the loss of our social bonds. The Ramadan fast can be a discipline through which we confront this loss and begin to rebuild our communities. Fasting is something we do together. Fasting is something that unites the Abrahamic traditions, and indeed all the religions of the world. By fasting, believers come to feel the presence of a good beyond ourselves, and we participate in an ancient discipline that has deepened human communities for centuries. 

This experience of unity has never been more needed. As Muslims, we believe that the primary message of all religions is peace, and this is what brings us together as a diverse group of different believers. Abraham (peace be upon him) had a tent with doors on four sides, inviting everyone to break bread with him. This is what our iftar dinners celebrate, even if that celebration has to happen online. 

Vaccinations are progressing slowly but surely, and with any luck this difficult year will soon be behind us. Until then, Ramadan serves as a great reminder of how much we still have to be grateful for. Peace be upon you, dear reader, and your family and friends.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Yetkin Yildirim, a board member of the The Dialogue Institute, a non-profit educational organization of Turkish-Americans and their friends. The group aims to promote mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures by creating opportunities for meaningful communication and shared experiences. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Yildirim can be reached by email via: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest columns shows a traditional Iftar dinner. (Photo courtesy: The Dialogue Institute.)

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