Saudi Arabia: I’m not a Muslim. Can I host an Iftar?

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, is less than a month away.  During that time, all Muslims who are able will fast without food or water from sunrise to sunset.  As a result, iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset, is an important time and occasion.

Iftar is also an occasion that Muslims and non-Muslims can experience together.  Many Muslims are happy to share their iftar with a non-Muslim.  But, can a non-Muslim host an iftar for a Muslim friend or family?  Absolutely!

A Muslim would likely feel honored to be invited to an iftar on their behalf by a non-Muslim.  Such an invitation is a beautiful way to build bridges and further understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

However, there are some key ground rules a Non-Muslim must know if planning to host an iftar dinner.  First and foremost is that timing is critical.  While non-Muslims may be accustomed to Muslim friends showing up late for activities, iftar is the one occasion guaranteed that a Muslim will be punctual if not a few minutes early.  Therefore, it is imperative on the non-Muslim host to have iftar ready at the exact time the sun is setting.

The iftar should first begin with dates, Arabic kawa, vemto and water.  Remember, your Muslim guest has gone  throughout the day with no feed and water so you want to offer some quick substance which will provide energy and quench the thirst.  The dates, Arabic kawa and vemto can all be found in any Middle Eastern grocery store.

To further set the appropriate mood while breaking the fast, have the dates, Arabic kawa, vemto and water set out attractively on a tablecloth on the floor.  Be sure to have little bowls with water for rinsing fingertips and small bowls or cups for the pits of the dates.  Arabic kawa should be served in the traditional small cups.  Vemto can be served into a standard juice glass whereas water can be provided from the bottle.

Some Muslims will want to excuse themselves for prayer after the initial breaking of fast.  It is helpful if the host knows in advance which direction is Makkah.  While the Muslim guests pray, the next course of iftar can be readied for serving.

Speaking from my Saudi family’s tradition, the next course would be a simple soup such as a dahl soup or lentil soup.  After all, when one has fasted all day you want to replenish the body gradually.  Arabic salad and small plates of pickled vegetables can also be served either with the soup or with the main course.  I also would have several varieties of sambosas served with the soup too.

The main course(s) during Ramadan can vary depending on the time of the year and how hot or cold it is.  Favorite Ramadan meals include jeerish and garcan.  A baked chicken with rice and French fries would also be appropriate.  In my Saudi family we’d usually have no less than two main courses from which to choose.  Baked chicken also went well with lasagna or a baked spaghetti casserole.  The main meal would also have sides of vegetables and bread.  During Ramadan, it is also common to serve main dishes using lamb.  

After the main dish has been consumed it will probably be time again for prayers.  While the Muslims pray, the non-Muslims can prepare for the after dinner tea and dessert.  During Ramadan tea is served usually a little sweeter than typical and piping hot.  It can be accompanied by a dessert of baklava or cheesecake or any other favorite Arab sweet.  A local Middle Eastern grocery store will offer fresh baked sweets during Ramadan.

American Bedu encourages non-Muslims to reach out and host an iftar for their Muslim friends.  I can be emailed directly at [email protected] for specific advice.


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