By Shyamal Sinha
Iftar , also known in English as fatoor is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. They break their fast at the time of the call to prayer for the evening prayer. This is their second meal of the day; the daily fast during Ramadan begins immediately after the pre-dawn meal of Suhur and continues during the daylight hours, ending with sunset with the evening meal of iftar.
Buddhist monks at Dharmarajika, a Buddhist monastery in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, are continuing a new annual tradition begun in 2013—serving iftar, the evening meal with which Muslims break their fast during Ramadan, to underprivileged Muslims. Venerable Suddhananda Mahathero, the 89-year-old abbot of Dharmarajika and supreme patriarch of the Bangladesh Bauddha Bhikkhu Mahasabha (the Supreme Sangha Council of Bangladesh), has been joining a team of 15 Buddhist monks to serve boxed iftar meals every day during the religious observation.
Muslims take Iftar at sunset to break the daily fast during the month-long religious festival—a tradition upheld by Muslims to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Ramadan traditionally takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Ramadan began on 6 May and will end on the evening of 4 June with Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast.
The Arab News newspaper quoted a Bangladeshi government official who lauded the iftar initiative at Dharmarajika as an example of social harmony between different religious groups in a country that all too often witnesses religious intolerance and deadly attacks against minority groups.
“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and inter-religious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” said Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land.” (Arab News)
Venerable Suddhananda initiated the project as a gesture of responsibility to local Muslim community, from whom the Buddhist monastery has received support since it was established in 1951.
“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” said Ven. Suddhananda. “I have been blessed by the love of the local Muslims. I believe that this is the least we could do to give them back the same love.” (Arab News, Dhaka Tribune).
Since launching the iftar initiative, monks have been handing out meal boxes to hundreds of poor and deprived Muslims during Ramadan. People begin lining up in the afternoon, waiting for the food which is distributed from 5.30pm. The meals consist of beguni (eggplant tempura), chhola-boot (lentils), khejur (dates), muri (puffed rice), potato chips, peyaju (onion tempura), and jilapi (a sweet made with sugar syrup).
“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” explained Ven. Suddhananda. (Arab News)
“We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing,” said Prantar Borua, a resident monk at the monastery. “It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.” (Arab News)
Muslims in Bangladesh have praised the initiative and thanked the monastery for the iftardistribution. “I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” said local resident Asma Khatun. (Arab News)
Sharmin Akter Shapna, another local Muslim, has been receiving iftar at the monastery since the program began. Emphasizing the importance of social harmony, she said it did not matter to her where the meals came from: “We are all human. And that is all that matters.” (Dhaka Tribune)
Sharif Hossian, who lost all his worldly possessions in an accident caused by river erosion, said receiving iftar meals from the monastery was blessing for him and his family. “I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he related. (Arab News)
Iftar activities at Dharmarajika are carried out with financial support from Singaporean businessman Victor Lee. In addition to sharing meal boxes, the monks are also involved in various social welfare activities, and the monastery itself is home to more than 700 orphans, who receive a free education at a school located within the compound.
Iftar begins by eating dates or drinking water, but this is only the opening of a rich meal. The spread of ‘iftar’ can be grand, with both vegetarian to non-vegetarian dishes and a variety of juices and sherbets. Iftar usually is a heavy meal and is followed by a second, lighter dinner eaten before the night (isha) prayers and the taraweeh prayers.