It’s Not Just About Me. Who Knew?!

Note: I wrote this entry like a week ago but didn’t have a chance to post ’cause I got a bit busy.

I was walking with my Muslim coworker/prayer buddy to the prayer room* at work when I asked her how her roza was going. It didn’t occur to me until after I said it that roza is the Urdu word for a fast so unless I’m talking to an Indian/Pakistani, the person isn’t going to have any idea of what I’m talking about.

I then started thinking about all the words I associate with Islam and the stuff that I do that is actually in Urdu. I’m so used to seeing/using some of the words as Islamic terms that I forget that they are in Urdu and not the actual words for them.

And so this is the part that I admit how ignorant I was when I was little…

Growing up, I thought that Indians/Pakistanis (“Desis”) made up the majority of Muslims in the United States. How could I not? The mosque we went to consisted mostly of South Asians and any kind of religious gathering in general we went to consisted of “my people”.

Like the dinners we used to go to in Ramadan, for instance.

During Ramadan, we used to attend these community iftars (this means the ‘breaking of the fast’) at the community center at the park in Fremont. Although different families would sponsor dinner for each Saturday night in Ramadan, there was always the same desified menu. Besides the traditional rice and curry dishes for dinner, we would always end up breaking our fast with dates, rooh afza, and pakoras.

I used to think all Muslims had stuff like this for iftar.

Dates, yes. It’s actually recommended for Muslims to break their fast with dates so 99.99% of all the Muslims out there take a bite into of these when sunset hits.

However rooh afza and pakoras? Not so much. These are typically Pakistani things. Rooh afza is this syrup stuff that one pours in milk that is meant to be refreshing. My taste for this drink waned for two reasons – 1) one time at one of these iftars, I saw a guy pour a few gallons of water in a container of rooh afza with milk to increase the volume of the drink 2) People started putting these thirst quencher type things into the drink which just floated at the top and looked weird. My siblings and I called them “fish eyes”. Pakoras are these fried things principally made with … dagnabbit, I can only remember the Urdu word for the flour used. Nevermind. Did I mention these are fried? Because they are. It is for this reason that my sister and I generally don’t like making these in the house since the only way to truly get rid of the smell that sticks to you is to shower and burn your clothes.

Eventually, of course, I realized that Muslims consisted of a ton of different type of people. For example, the largest group of Muslims in the United States consist of African-Americans. Also, the fact that there are Muslims from all over the world who have settled in this country plus a growing number of converts from all across the racial spectrum means that we all have our own traditions or are creating new ones as go along.

Now, some of these iftars are lot more mixed than the ones that I used to go to when I was a child. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with your own cultural group but for someone like myself for barely fits into the culture I was born into, going to these culturally diverse iftars is part of the advantage of living in this country. And, now that I think about it, the mosque that I went to when I was young has now become a lot more diverse as well and is one of many Bay Area mosques that hold interfaith iftars.

I have to be honest, I think I prefer breaking my fast at home but sometimes it’s really nice to break your fast surrounded by people who are doing the same thing as you. It’s like, you’re all in this together, y’know?

*It’s not an actual prayer room as it is the production room that my coworker and I got permission to use for prayers.

Further Reading:
Check out this article from a while ago on dates. Until I read this article, I didn’t realize that a lot of the dates I eat are from here in California. Medjool dates FTW.

11 thoughts

  1. great observations! i’m not sure about the timings for Ramadan where you are but here we’ve been fasting from 3am until 9pm. and i knew this would take its toll so i decided from the outset that i would not be eating any fried goods for iftar. i can’t make them anyway!
    it might sound crazy but these days i prepare a lot more for ramadan so that i can make it through the day, especially because i’m a mum who works full time. so for the one month it’s out with any crap and in with water, fruit, veg and food that can keep me going for the day. like you i have also given up meat for Ramadan and i do think it has made all the difference.
    back to your post though, we have never participated in community iftars, we’re quite a big family and the observation i made every year was that Ramadan was the only time of the year you could get the whole family around a dinner table at the same time. however you can imagine the friction in the minutes leading up to iftar…
    p.s. the flour you’re thinking of is besan, or gram/chickpea flour :)

  2. Tony – Yup, agreed :)
    Bushra – We’re fasting from about 5am-8pm, a little better than how you have it! I totally agree with you in regards to getting family together. We were never the family to sit and eat our meals together. That’s the cool thing about Ramadan – we (well, whoever is left in the house :) end up eating breakfast and dinner with one another. That almost never happens outside of Ramadan.

    Ah, besan is chickpea flour? I’m pretty sure I never knew that. Thanks!

  3. I was trying to use the Arabic “Suhoor” instead of “Sehri”…Vasim wouldn’t let me change…it doesn’t feel right unless I use the Urdu words. Need to change! :)

  4. 1. Yea it took me until high school to realize that “namaz” doesn’t mean prayer to all Muslims.
    2. Those “fish eyes” are called tukhum balanga. I just learned that and it’s now my favorite word although I dislike ruavza
    3. Pakoras are the best
    4. Breaking fast at the mosque is so cool. I love the atmosphere

  5. How nice to see your smiling face and I can hear your laugh through your writing. Great comments : ). Looking forward to seeing you in Sept. – Jo

  6. Aaisha and CM – “namaz”, “sehri”, two words I can’t break the habit of.
    CM- Funny that you knew what I was talking about when I said “fish eyes”!
    Joanna – Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment:) Totally looking forward to seeing you and the NW crew in September!

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