Preparing Ramadan meals during a national shutdown

This year, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan will occur under the long shadow of Covid-19. We asked Muslims around the U.S. how they are adapting their traditional evening meals.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, begins today or tomorrow, based on moon sighting, for most Muslims around the world. This holy month is filled with abundant prayer and reflection, along with fasting from before sunrise until sunset. an act of worship designed to improve one’s relationship with God. Many families also use the weeks before Ramadan for meal prep so that the pre-dawn meal, suhur, and after-sunset meal, iftar, can be done with ease.

Of course, the weeks before Ramadan have not been easy this year. In the United States, home to over 3.45 million Muslims, it’s safe to say Ramadan will be challenging in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Muslims across the country are embracing—and enduring— what is to come.  

Many families use the weeks before Ramadan to prepare meals so that the pre-dawn meal, suhur, and after-sunset meal, iftar, is done with ease.

Safa Khudeira

Safa Khudeira, an entrepreneur from suburban Chicago who runs the international cooking blog My Traveling Kitchen, tells The Counter Muslims have had to totally rethink their Ramadan strategy this year because they will likely not have family and friends share a meal—often a cherished element of iftar. 

Courtesy of Safa Khudeira

Safa Khudeira is an entrepreneur based in suburban Chicago. She runs the international cooking blog My Traveling Kitchen.

“This Ramadan, we will have more time to spend with our nuclear family and we should take that time to make it a more fruitful Ramadan,” she says. Though iftar is often a joyous, shared meal, Khudeira feels there are advantages to limiting the meal to inner family. After all, Ramadan is a month designated for spiritual reflection. “Now that we are going to be home and not having guests over we will not have to spend as much time in the kitchen and therefore will have more of an opportunity to connect with God, ” she notes.

That said, Khudeira loves to cook, and she loves to share food. This year her menu will include everything from Barbacoa to peri peri chicken. And while she is disheartened she will be unable to have iftar with her family members, she has made preparations: “I’ve gotten some disposable containers because I still want to be feeding people (besides my husband and daughter) … so I’ll be dropping off food to my extended family members and leaving it at their doorstep to maintain social distancing protocol.”

Afshan Malik, Houston mother of five, says she has been looking for special ways to make the meal more enjoyable during such a difficult moment in history. This includes using “fancier” plates and glasses, and special foods that can be frozen well in advance. “Iftar is a really festive time,” she says. “I believe this year, in conjunction with the quarantine guidelines, we will be limited on outside treats and meals but continue the tradition of preparing foods that can be frozen or easily prepared,” she says.  

Afshan Malik makes food that can be frozen or easily prepared.

Afshan Malik

Malik plans to make pastries, beef stew, chicken soup, haleem (a traditional stew), homemade breads, salads that include chickpeas and quinoa, and fruit-infused water. “Preparing for Ramadan at home is usually the most cost-effective option and for this year—we look forward to honing in on what we have at home that can be easily used (lentils, flours, etc.) and consider planting a garden to grow fresh herbs and vegetables,” Malik adds.

Basima Ismail lives in New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic is the U.S. To keep her loved ones steady during this difficult time, each family member has to prepare a topic of choice that will be discussed as a type of shared lesson after breaking their fast. As far as the meal itself, Ismail suddenly finds herself with more time on her hands, and has been pouring herself into cooking like never before. 

Mansaf (picture with rice and meat)

Basima Ismail

“I’m actually going through cook books I have and writing out what we could potentially be eating every day,” she says. “I’m practicing making these dishes now more than before. It’s actually really fun and challenging; it’s a skill I can become accustomed to and teach my own daughter, something I didn’t have growing up. It’s cool to see that through food we’re coming together.”

Mufti Abdulhannan Nizami of the Al-Firdaus Foundation in suburban Chicago has sadly witnessed grocery stores and other essential shops running short on supplies due to panic shopping. Nizami says this type of hoarding behavior runs contrary to Islamic belief: “It’s as if man had suddenly become selfish and miserly.” Driven by unemployment and fear, he understands the urge to panic and buy more than you need. Still, he encourages followers of Islam to heed the Prophet Muhammed’s words: “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor goes hungry.” 

In addition, Nizami mentions another Prophetic saying, “None of you are believers until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” This Ramadan, he encourages Muslims to reach out to those who may be less fortunate, to assist them in these trying times. “Whatever goes around, comes around,” he adds.

Tasmiha Khan is a Muslim-American activist with an MA in Social Impact. In her free time, she enjoys freelancing and playing with her son, Ameen. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, VICE, Newsweek, Salon, and MTV, among other outlets. Follow Tasmiha on Twitter @CraftOurStory.