Saturday, September 06, 2008

Iftar

This is the word for "breakfast" in Arabic, both breakfast when you're having it any day in the morning, and breakfast when you're breaking the fast after a day of no food, no drink, no bad behaviour, no blowing up...
Back in university, we would be sitting in the computer lab pre-iftar. At first, this was "the Cube", a grey little cube shaped building filled with computer stations, for Computer Science students, and then we would be in the cornily named "library of the future", in the basement of the SITE building, once it existed. We would be scrambling to finish up some assignment or another, perhaps writing the last few difficult lines of code, or hitting compile and praying there would no compile errors, knowing we still had the horrible run-time errors to face. Maybe we'd have already found them; maybe we'd be debugging slowly, exhaustedly, ready to pull our hair out from the effort at looking the same line that seemed fine but was clearly throwing our whole program into disarray. Or, possibly, we'd have given up on all of the above, and had our programs open in some random window on the computer but were only pretending to work. Possibly, instead we were chatting, or checking hockey scores, or surfing away those last few minutes until we had a mandated break to break our fast and clear our heads of the "if-thens" and "elses" of the code that had started to infest our heads...
The SITE building was on one end of campus and Iftar was in the University Centre (shortened to the Uni-Centre, because what's the fun in saying the whole name of anything?), and we had two options to get there:
  1. Follow the long, wining path of tunnels through about 5 buildings, zigzagging across campus from the inside to avoid the cold.
  2. Take your jacket, go upstairs and brave the elements in what was a shorter trek than in 1, but also a colder trek.

I used to alternate between the two, depending on how much time I had, how cold it was, how long of a break I was affording myself for this communal fast-breaking and prayer.
In the Uni-Centre, dates were passed around or set on a table. Milk or water in Styrofoam or plastic cups was also there, and the desks had been pushed aside in the small room to make space for prayer. Half the time, you didn't know half the people you were breaking fast with, after all, this was a campus of thousands of students, in thousands of programs, and you overlapped here because you were Muslim, and you had class or lab keeping you here to this hour, and so weren't already home. Regardless, you said salaam (peace, our greeting in Islam), you said taqabbal Allah (May God accept your good deeds), and there was a sense of being in it together, of having spent the last 12 or 13 hours in a state of un-having, of emptiness of material so you could fill yourself with something else, some form of perspective, or discipline, or appreciation for the rest of the world, who fasted, not voluntarily so many days of the year. After prayer there were tables set up for big foil containers filled with rice and salad and chicken. If we were lucky, there was samosa, every one's absolute favourite. The food came from people in the community, and it was free: in Islam, we believe there is a great reward for helping the fasting break their fast.
We would sit on the floor or lean against the pushed-back tables and desks, those with classes and labs to get back to eating quickly, those with a little more time winding down. We'd learn each other's names, forget, and ask again a week later when we happened to overlap at another iftar. We'd clean up and go.
This was one of the things I missed most about university, this ad-hoc coming together of a community in a place where the world doesn't revolve around your traditions, where the days are not cut short during your month of fasting and the schedules made more lax. Last night, I felt it again at the McGill MSA iftar. There is something about students and student culture. Something more fluid, more flexible than at the office, where things are set and established, and it's really very... nice. I sat with girls I'd never met and some whom I'd met once or twice, or three WHOLE times, and laughed and talked and got to know them better. We turned the cafeteria into an iftar hall, pulling tables together and pushing them back when it was over. There were those same, massive foil pans filled with rice and salad and a pot full of delicious, Indian style meat. There were taqabbal Allah's and come again's exchanged. I think I will.

6 comments:

- K said...

It's funny, last night was my first MSA Iftar of this Ramadan as well. You've summed up my own experience beautifully, with the exception that I've been in Kingston for too long that I know most of the people there at this point. It never ceases to amaze me just how much the community puts into providing so much food for so many people every day for the whole month. It makes me realize that we have the potential to accomplish so much. And yet, if this were the only thing that some did, it is great in itself, Ma Sha Allah.

Jen said...

reading that i remember so many beautiful Ramadan memories... jazakallah.

noha said...

K, so true about the food. I think people really, truly want to help in those simple ways, and this is something so concrete.
Jen, glad you enjoyed darling. Ramadan Mubarak to you and your whole family...

citizen of the world said...

That's a lovely, community-building tradition.

XUP said...

Our whole society has isolated individuals so much compared to how we all once lived. Once the community was everything. The community came together for all important events—births, deaths, weddings, funerals, holidays, emergencies, celebrations and any event in between. They looked out for each other, helped each other, supported each other and yes, drove each other crazy on occasion – like one big family.

noha said...

COTW, thanks! I'm going back tonight.
XUP, I think that because a lot of the Canadian Muslim community are either immigrants, or first and second generation Canadians, and their original societies still place a higher focus on community, it's still common. Also, Islam is very very "big" on community. There's a lot in the teachings that is very collective, and the concept of the greater good of society is pretty big in and of itself.