May you be well every year.

Pippa the Partyplanner, in her regular column for Waitrose – a British lifestyle magazine , has been hitting on several cultural events/holidays.  Her first “Friday Night Feast” was Asian themed in time for the Chinese new year, and one column was Wimbledon based – let the people have their Pimms! Presumably, her July column covered Bastille Day. Despite coming under criticism for the column, the editor of Waitrose has compared her to Yotam Ottolenghi, the Cordon Bleu trained chef and author of Jerusalem, the cookbook.

But there is one holiday that she has yet to cover – Ramadan, or circa 10 July to 9 August 2013 based on the crescent moon. Currently over 20 percent of the World’s population is Muslim or practices the Islamic faith [1], making it the second largest religion in the world behind Christianity. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the holiest. It is during this time that the angel Gabriel is supposed to have revealed the Qa’ran to Mohammed, 1,400 years ago.

I don’t have rights to any of these pictures, but here are some slide shows to see how people are celebrating Ramadan around the world, in 2013. Foreign Policy’s Eat, Pray, Fast; WSJ Ramadan Around the World; and The Atlantic’s Pictures of Ramadan

If you live in, say New York City, and are not totally in the know about what Ramadan means, it is a time of heightened security and speculation that there will be some sort of violence or malicious mischief done.  If you are one of the World’s 1.6 billion Muslims (roughly, Islam is the fastest growing religion) you might think this is more than a little ironic.   Ramadan as a holiday is observed as a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, or how a devout Muslim worships and declares their faith.

So how could a party-planner use fasting, sawm, as the basis for a column?  Ramadan is not about starvation or purely skipping food for daylight hours.  (Some believe that they must refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, engaging in sexual relations and even swearing during daylight hours.)  During these times, Muslims increase the number of good deeds they do, contemplate the messages of the Qa’ran and their place in society and in humankind, and to be kind to those less fortunate. Fasts are broken by gatherings of families, and even, as some of the slide shows above show, whole communities to share in the privilege of iftar, the breaking the fast nightly meal.

So what’s better to feature than a meal that is meant to celebrate family, community and peace?  For a holiday around fasting, there are some strongly held traditions that focus on food.  Dates are thought to be what Mohammed broke his fast with during this time, so lots of the recipes include these.  Ramadan is celebrated from London (even in Pippa’s UK!) to Jakarta, and while no two traditions are exactly the same,  iftar is taking place nightly around the world.

The menu would include a first course of fruits or fruit juice, then a simple savory appetizers like empanadas, samosas or bourek with accompanying sauces and chutneys.  The next course will probably be a soup, in order to warm up the body for more food after many hours of abstaining.  The main meal is small portions of a traditional dinner – meats, pastas, rice and salad on the side.  Dessert is usually a pastry or traditional sweet like Qayatef.

Check out the next post of some Ramadan recipes.

1. The CIA World fact book lists 22.7 percent and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life lists 23.2 percent.

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