Sharing food and faith: Calgary buzzing with fast breaking events over Ramadan

Nightly iftar events, parties happening all over the city during the holy month

Members of northeast Calgary’s Pakistani community gather at the Asian Grill restaurant in Marlborough to break their fast. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

As soon as the sun sets over northeast Calgary during Ramadan, its many ethnic restaurants and eateries — along with homes and community centres — come alive.

The fast-breaking evening meal is called an iftar. It’s a loud, busy and colourful occasion focused firmly on food.

Asjad Bukhari was one of many Pakistanis who joined together for an iftar in northeast Calgary, bringing together Pakistanis from different ethnic groups and regions, including Christian Pakistanis. Bukhari says Pakistan has five or six different ethnic and linguistic groups and is a multicultural country itself. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“First we break the fast and then we go for prayer and then the dinner and mingling with family and friends. There’s a lot of fried food,” said Asjad Bukhari, speaking at an iftar held by the Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association of Alberta.

The breaking of the fast starts with a date or two, followed by small mountains of samosas, huge pans of chicken and goat curry and a sea of rice.

There are desserts too, like Lab-e-Shireen, a rich pink custard and fruit dish popular with the Pakistani community.

Some Muslims take a break to pray after breaking the fast with dates and appetizers before returning for a larger meal. This group found a quiet place behind the Asian Grill restaurant in Marlborough to pray for a few minutes. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with faith, prayer, charity and making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in SaudiArabia.

But not everybody fasts during Ramadan. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with medical issues don’t have to take part.

“There are exceptions, and the Qur’an suggested it’s good for you but if you don’t want [to participate] then just give one meal to the needy, so there is an alternative,” said Bukhari.

Some iftar organizers and religious groups in Calgary are increasingly extending invites to non-Muslims, curious to learn more about Ramadan and their Muslim friends and neighbours.

Dates are often the first piece of food Muslims will eat to break their fast, before moving onto a full meal, including fruit drinks and water. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

For non-Muslims who attend, iftar parties are a celebration of culture, food and diversity.

“It’s a combination of culture and spiritual experience,” said Bukhari. “And different people have different experiences.”

“It really touches my heart, it really gets to the core of me,” said Myra D’Souza, who was raised in Pakistan as a Christian.

“That’s what we’re all about, getting together and understanding each other. Canada is the envy of most countries in the world because we’re so diverse. We do it so well,” said D’Souza.

Ramadan draws to a close later this month with the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr — the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.

It begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky.

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