Jul 30, 2012

Breaking Tradition (A take on iftaar parties)

By Amatullah Aminah


The issue I am about to address will surely open a thread of contentions (it did in my family), but after attending a Ramadan workshop I couldn’t ignore my urge to share it.
Ramadan begins with much enthusiasm and conscious preparations and with it also comes a well planned and rehearsed tradition of iftaar parties. Iftaar parties are treated as a celebration of Ramadan, but do we really want a celebration that tampers the spirit of the month? Is it right to give primacy to a gathering which severely interferes with our ibaadat and at times threatens to dampen the ardour of fasting?

I have deliberately chosen the word ‘parties’ because I am not referring to the iftaar gatherings we have in masjids, I specifically mean the extravagant social gatherings we have at home. One may argue that it is thawaab to share food with the fasting person and thus such parties are inevitable. Indeed the reward for offering food to a fasting person is abundant, but the point here is not the act of offering iftaar but the mannerism in which it is executed.

The host’s end
The lavish preparations start at least a day before the party. Usually, the women in the family extensively engage in cooking, cleaning and decorating the house. Ohh!! Everyone is so excited! What should be the menu?
“We must have Chinese wanton rolls on the menu, no one had them at their party this year”
“And please make sure the kebabs are not cold when you serve them, they got cold at Seema’s iftaar party and no one really enjoyed them”
“We should atleast have three kinds of drinks!”
“Do we have wood polish? Oh! We may have to go shopping before the party”
“We should have blue orchid’s arrangement for the dining table”
“Darling, don’t forget to pick up the linens from the dry cleaners”

yada yada yada the list of Ramadan-distractions goes on...

Seriously? Should all those precious hours be wasted checking the table linens and taking out your best China? Should you be harbouring negative unacknowledged competition with your fellow brothers and sisters, and getting into an unconscious social race. It is Ramadan! The month, in which we should transcend all negativity, grab on to every precious moment and make best of our time.

The Day
The day dawns with abnormal hustle bustle, decorating, changing cushion covers, arranging the table, and on and on ... even the kitchen opens up early. I remember reading an article, ‘turn off your stove this Ramadan’ it is very popular, and you couldn’t have missed it. The central idea of the article was that how in Ramadan cooking should take the back burner and ibaadah should be given priority. The lady of the house should prepare in advance and keep things simple during Ramadan so she may get more time to recite Quran, make extensive duas, stand in qiyaam and fully exploit the blessings of this month. Contrary to the best ideas, year after year, we find the prime focus of Ramadan to be food! It seems incurable...

Moving on...
Guests start pouring in before maghrib, (of course!) that dear precious time before maghrib is spend in idle talks and last minute arrangement of food and drinks. The time, in which the sound of quran recitation should be dominant, is overtaken by echoes of loud laughter, chatting and squealing of little children! The time which should find us humbled in sujood and imploring in dua, is replaced with things which will not benefit us in the least but on the contrary are injurious to the blessings and opportunities we get exclusively in Ramadan.


Finally the time to break the fast arrives and a moment of silence is observed when everyone suddenly realizes they have fleeting moments left before they pop a date in their mouth and lose a very precious time when duas are answered. It is a historical fact.

The process of iftaar continues for a good twenty-thirty minutes, after the maghrib break, people return to the dining table for dinner. And honestly even after a hearty iftaar who can pass over biryaani and kebab parathey! So overeating becomes excusable (doesn’t matter if your audible burps in taraweeh disturb/annoy/repulse your neighbours)

What is worth missing Isha for?
Socializing continues till isha, and then everyone quickly exchange farewell pleasantries and rush to the masjid. Often people end up getting late for isha or missing it altogether (If you leave late don’t expect a reserved spot in the parking lot, you will probably park your car two blocks away and run to the masjid to discover you have missed two rakahs of isha)

And the darling host, who gave his guests such a great time, will probably miss isha and taraweeh both. When the guests leave the house needs another round of cleaning, the process starts immediately, and the women happily volunteer to stay back and clean up and not to forget they are too tired to go for taraweeh. So maybe (?) the men rush for isha and women end up staying back, cleaning and making a home of the mess left behind by the iftaar party.

Don’t we think this through? What in the world is worth missing isha or taraweeh for? How can we encourage a gathering or a tradition which makes you miss your taraweeh-A blessing we get once in a year.

The guest’s end
My dear (poor) guest,
You are not spared of all the responsibility in contributing to this tradition. There are five things you suffer from:
a) A social obligation to return the invitation by another iftaar party. A vicious circle of parties is born hence forth.
b) You too participate in an event where you miss your time of making dua and indulging in other forms of ibaadah
c) You, sometimes, miss isha too
d) Before you leave for the party a good 30-40 minutes are devoted in getting dressed, dolling up and making sure your children are ready and looking handsome.
e) And oooooh you cannot forgo the post party gossip. Discussing the party, people, and events is an after effect which hits all of you dear guests.

Save yourselves!

Sincerely yours,
A rehabilitated victim.

A cure
An alternative can be to sponsor iftaars at your local masjids and/or giving money or sending food to deserving families. You can sponsor iftaar for one day or you can just sponsor water for the whole month or you can even make a group and sponsor jointly. There are many ways to offer iftaar and reap benefits why should we choose one method which threatens our sincerity. May Allah reward our efforts, where we won’t be compromising our time and forms of worship for anything.

Our social circle is made of several inner circles and you are a small part of one of the inner circles, you hold a very important place, you have the strength to stand up and say ‘no!’

If each one of you focus only on your inner circle and firmly resolute to politely refuse iftaar parties, soon you’ll be turned into an example to be followed. Gradually we can cure the society.

You don’t have to be harshly critical, just put forth your point politely and explain why you won’t be attending or throwing parties this year. If you fear being tagged rude simply tell them about a great article you read and forward them this link ;)

Ok. Bury me now.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


I can see your perspective and the way you describe it does not sound good, but allow me to share another one. First we have this hadith: "
Abu Hurayrah (radhiyallaahu 'anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, "The rights of the Muslim upon the Muslim are six." It was said, "And what are they Oh Messenger of Allaah?" He replied, "When you meet him, give him the greeting of peace, when he invites you, respond to his invitation, when he seeks your advice, advise him, when he sneezes and praises Allaah, supplicate for mercy upon him, when he becomes ills, visit him, and when he dies follow him (i.e. his funeral)."

So accepting the invitation of another muslim is one right. Perhaps declining the invitation is worse than attempting to improve the celebration in another way, perhaps by demonstrating a more toned-down one?  Also, I am afraid I have to go on your description because I have not experienced such a circle of invitations and community and would feel blessed if I had such contacts. Ramadan is one of the few times of year where people tend to extend such invitations and I feel fortunate if I am invited to an iftar or two each year, some years with no one to break fast with are lonely indeed. It is not practical for every family situation to be able to attend an iftar or even taraweeh at the masjid, especially with small children, so an iftar hosted at someone's home can be a rare time of community for some of us. I am not trying to support over the top celebrations or forgetting the gist of Ramadan, but to be able to complain about too much celebration is the lament of someone truly blessed in friends and community.

Like I said in the very beginning, this will open a thread of contentions :) 

Sis, the article is not speaking against hosting iftaars, but the fashion they are hosted in. maybe you have not experienced extravagant iftaars but they exist and widely if I may say so. The culture of throwing lavish iftaars and make a one whole big party of the affair is what I am speaking against. Another thing, I have not personally been to ANY iftaar party (even a simple one) where before the iftaar people engage in recitation of the quran or dua ...there is ALWAYS socialising and chatting. my article speaks against that ...that moment where duas are accepted, and which we tend to waste over friendly banter. 
As for extending invitations: we have 11 months to play host and invite people for dinner and if we can cure the problem and amend the ways in which we throw an iftaar, then honestly having people over for iftaar would be great :)  I have great ideas how can iftaar be made great ...maybe I Ican do another article on that  :)

I understand your sentiments with respect to Iftar parties. My issue is with this line ''the lady of the house should prepare in advance..." . Is the responsibility for preparing and serving food that of women only?

I agree to an extent. Hosting Iftar has huge rewards, the more you feed the more reward you get, no? So don't be surprised when people assume that your article is taking a stance against that.

I don't particularly like it when people make the religion too extravagant but, if they have the money and the means then there's nothing to worry about. My main concern would be the waste of food which is so common when you have people over for Iftar. With worship, people could easily do dhikr whilst cooking and cleaning so their precious hours won't be wasted. There are alternatives, please talk about that other than just bashing a cultural practise which didn't hurt anyone.

No it's not! Absolutely not...
But unfortunately that's how it usually is, and I have written how things are. I believe it is a responsibility which should be shared, although it's only fair to reason that if the man is the breadwinner and comes home at 8, he will not like to prepare a whole meal, especially if the wife is not working, he should most definitely help. If both are working then a mutual understanding should b reached as to how chores would be executed and by whom....again it comes down to one simple thing: sharing of responsibilities!
Discussing the role of men and women in a domestic environment is a separate topic altogether.

mashaAllah sister, the article is ritten in a specific context and highlights the issuen at hand in a much appreciated way.
Agreed, not all the points may be relevant to every culture but dear sisters, I urge you to give due regard to the purpose for which sister Amina wrote this piece in the first place.
I'm quite convinced her niyyah was not to offend our 'traditions' (although i'm nobody to judge anybody's niyyah), the point i'm trying to make is that what she's highlighting is the fact that in a lot of cultures(as the one I experience in India), the whole spirit of Community and Brotherhood is hampered when the 'manner' in which the Iftar is hosted, is similar to one discussed above.

In no way is this to discourage community gatherings (be it at home or otherwise) rather, its about this hurtful feeling that all that people talk about during most of the ramdan is 'whose fruit salad was served all soggy' and 'which family was stingy in serving food'..'audhubillah.

Sisters, i'm not exaggerating, Backbiting somewhat becomes a norm if people are not educated properly about their Deen..

One thing I don5 quite agree upon is the denial of invitation (which might only alienate us altogether from the community, for people might interpret our views as extreme and offensive).

My suggested sloution is to maintain Sabr, make dua consitently and in the next eleven months, try to lovingly and caringly educate our communities about the Deen and the significance of Ramadan, Good Manners, appreciating our fellow brethren etc.

May Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala make us of those who work sincerely for His sake, Love each other for His sake, and spread peace, knowledge and love for His sake, ameen!

Indeed, all flaws are my own and from the shayateen(Alhamdullilah they're locked up these days), and please don't take this personal...
and what Khayr (Goodness), can therre ever be, except from Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala?

Love you for the sake of Allah Subhanhu wa ta'ala.
JazakAllah for your patience

Zainab Fida Ahsan

I apologize for all the spelling mistakes!
probably have been too impatient...sorry sisters!

Uff, I messed up...the last paragraph should be thus:

1. Kindly don't feel offended by any of the comments above (we all belong to different cultures and have different experiences )...avoid yourself any hurt by assuming that your sister is indirectly being sarcastic or offensive to you..seek the good in people ( I say this to myself first)

2. All mistakes and flaws are from my own nafs and the shayateen.

3. There can never be any khayr, except from Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. # BeautifulFact


4.I love you all for the sake of Our Lord

5. I truly appreciate your patience for you fellow sister and hope that we all are able to carry on with a more positive attitude towards ous fellow muslims bi ith illah. :)


Uff, I messed up...the last paragraph should be thus:

1. Kindly don't feel offended by any of the comments above (we all belong to different cultures and have different experiences )...avoid yourself any hurt by assuming that your sister is indirectly being sarcastic or offensive to you..seek the good in people ( I say this to myself first)

2. All mistakes and flaws are from my own nafs and the shayateen.

3. There can never be any khayr, except from Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. # BeautifulFact


4.I love you all for the sake of Our Lord

5. I truly appreciate your patience for you fellow sister and hope that we all are able to carry on with a more positive attitude towards ous fellow muslims bi ith illah. :)


May Allah reward you abundantly for writing this article and not being afraid to! I will be having a iftar event + Qiyam night at my house on the weekend and I plan to surprise my guests by making sure that it won't be just a talk/food fest. It will inshallah be nourishment for the soul!

A wonderful Article and something Alhamdolillah what we already followed this Ramadhan. Refusing Iftar parties is not and should not be something to be ashamed or scared of. and the two we did attend were very very simple. and maghrib, isha and taraweeh were prayed on time!!!May Allah Guide us in the Best Direction.Aameen.

There are many deserving people around us who dont go around begging. Iftar can be prepared for them and children should be involved so that they too learn the main purpose.

Jazak Allahoo Khair for writing and sharing this article.

I think you are missing the whole point of this article.

Here in Santa Clara,CA we just have 1hr 30mins before we break our fast, say maghrib, have dinner and leave for Isha. Even with just two of us around this time is not sufficient for us.Talking about the Iftaar invitations, I personally haven't attended a single Iftaar which was planned and executed as it should have been.The point that Amina is trying to make here is, don't glorify Iftaar ritual into a party. Keep it simple, don't run around satisfying people, give yourself enough time for Ibaada and make the most out of Ramadaan.NO to parties (during Ramadan), YES to justified Iftaars.

MashaAllah! Congrats sis Lisa for being able to break a tradition. We need iftaars and qiyaam like that. Worshipping together bring people close in an uncanny way....something only a mature mind can comprehend. Having iftaars like that is what I give a thumbs up to :)
My take is strictly against extravagant parties, which unfortunately are very common now.

JazakAllah sis for understating the point and not deviating into scenarios aim not speaking against.
I agree with your point about neglected people of our society who don't go around begging and it falls on us to be vigilant of such people. It's our duty to find out about such families and send iftaar over to their house or call them over.
Excellent idea of involving children!!!

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