Each night during the Islamic festival of Ramadan, faithful Muslims are allowed to break their day-long fast with festive meals, to which family, friends and neighbors are often invited.

If you’re not Muslim, don’t worry — the Koran does not require fasting of you. Of course, if you are a Christian, the Bible does. But to Muslim faithful, fasting daily during the month of Ramadan is seen as an obligation and an act of worship. “It is among the best acts of obedience and greatest deeds, and one for which there is great reward,” advises the on-line al-Sunna website, which notes that:

Imam al-Bukhariyy related the Qudsiyy hadith that the Prophet said Allah said: which means: “The reward of every good deed is multiplied ten up to seven-hundred times, except that of the Fasting; it is usually done in sincerity and will be multiplied by as many times as Allah wills.” One of the doors of Paradise, named ar-Rayyan, is specified for those Muslims who used to fast in this world. On the Day of Judgment, it will be opened, and those who used to fast in obedience to Allah enter through it, then it would be closed and no others will enter through it.

What about non-Muslims who just feel like fasting for reasons such as solidarity with their Muslim friends? According to the al-Sunna website:

In this world, the non-Muslim is not requested to fast, however, in the Hereafter, he will be punished for neglecting to fast, as he will be punished for his blasphemy. Rather, the obligation on the non-Muslim is to embrace Islam, then afterwards, to fast Ramadan.

Children, pregnant women, nursing moms, diabetics and others who are not physically able aren’t obligated to fast. And here’s another exemption:

… for one to be obligated to fast, he must be of sound mind. Fasting is not obligatory on the insane person.

The non-Muslim may not realize that the devout follower of Islam can’t eat just anything when they break the fast. This isn’t just during Ramadan, either. Jews can only eat kosher food. Hindus observe food rules from the Dharmasastras. Muslims eat only halal foods. There are many things that are halal (allowed) or haraam (forbidden). There are also those which are mashbooh, which means “questionable.” The devout steer clear of them just in case. Haraam foods include pork and all its products, animals improperly slaughtered, alcohol and any other intoxicants, carnivorous animals, birds of prey — and any food that has come into contact with any of those.

This year, Saffron Road, a brand of the American Halal Company announced “big plans to more deeply connect with and better serve its core constituency during the month-long Ramadan festivities in August.”

Each night of Ramadan includes festive iftars or breaking of the fasts. To help its Muslim consumers celebrate, Saffron Road is partnering with Whole Foods Market to host several blog posts and offer shoppers chances to win free Saffron Road products and a $100 Whole Foods Market gift card on the grocer’s Whole Story Blog.

Saffron Roads had great hopes for its partnership with Whole Foods:

“Support for Halal foods, and in particular our brand Saffron Road, during Ramadan from Whole Foods Market on a national, regional and corporate level is going to be a huge deal among many otherwise disenfranchised Muslim communities. We anticipate an outpouring of support and purchases by the thousands of American Muslims who will flock into Whole Foods Market stores,” says Adnan Durrani, CEO of Saffron Road. “This will be the first time a major grocery chain in the U.S. acknowledges Ramadan in this way on a national level. Considering Saffron Road’s products are available in over 90% of Whole Foods Market stores nationwide, this is a major positive move forward for addressing the needs of the American Halal consumer all over the U.S.

Saffron Road will also collaborate with Halal food expert, Yvonne Maffei of the popular blog, My Halal Kitchen. 

“Never before has it been so easy for the Halal consumer to reach for convenient, healthy andcompletely Halal meals to make at-home dining alone or in small groups something special and easy,” she writes. “Many of Saffron Road’s products are easy to incorporate into the iftar experience or add to them. New frozen chicken items like the Chicken Tenders are wonderful for the kids or to add some heartiness to an otherwise boring salad. The broth varieties coming out soon will make Halal cooking even easier as the first on the market that Muslim shoppers can trust in quality and authenticity.

So, what is the “iftar experience?” It’s the celebration each evening after a day of fasting — which for the devout includes no liquids of any kind, including water.

Last year, President Obama continued a White House tradition of hosting an iftar dinner — a practice begun by President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks. In his remarks to 90 special guests from the Muslim world, Obama reflected on the importance of religious freedom as one of the founding principles of our nation: 

Our founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion.  In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”  The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land.  And that right has been upheld ever since.

Then Obama surprised some by taking the opportunity to comment on the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, which was raging at that time:

Now, that’s not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York.  Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.  The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear.  As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.  And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

Then everybody sat down to a good meal. The menu included dates, kitchen garden green salad, spiced marcona almonds, Charlie’s honey vinaigrette, organic chicken, potato and leek puree, late summer peas, kataifi wafers, oranges and lemon sorbet.


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