By Daniel Hayes
Muslim Link Contributing Writer
The lights are on these Ramadan nights at Dar Al Hijra Islamic Center as this mosque offers iftar, the meal used to break the daily fast in the Islamic tradition, each night during the holy month. The fragrance of ethnic dishes emanating from the mosque seems to attract Muslims from across the metropolitan area. Nearly 700 Muslims sit down at white cloth laden tables in the main prayer room of the mosque to enjoy a hot meal each night.
Hosting iftar is nothing new to Dar Al Hijra, but with the growing Islamic community in the metropolitan area, the costs associated with the hosting, both time required for preparation and the amount of money needed to fund this series of events, have increased. The center has been providing this service since its opening in 1983.
Dar Al Hijra accommodates about 680 people per night on average. “The preparation begins at the time of fajr [dawn prayer] and continues well into the afternoon,” according to Samir Abu Isa, the center director. “The most difficult part of this is finding dedicated people to pull this off. It is also a challenge to remove everything from the prayer area after the iftar, before Isha [evening prayer] begins,” said Abu Isa.
All of the 10 to 13 cooks at the center are paid, but several members of the setup crew are volunteers. A few of them are quite visible nightly as they hustle to and fro in an effort to quickly feed the starving masses. The percussion taps of their feet on the hard white floor are accompanied by the clamour of serving spoons striking metal trays.
All of the food is prepared at the center. Food brought from the homes of attendees is not accepted.
The food is free to everyone who shows up, but Dar Al Hijra relies on donations to make all of this possible. “We do not charge anyone but we strongly encourage people to donate, although it is not mandatory to do so,” said Abu Isa. The event costs the mosque $1500 each weekday and $2000 per day on weekends.
Dinner is served to guests, banquet hall style as opposed to having a buffet line, which makes things quite convenient, according to a guest who wishes to remain nameless. “This is a time when Muslims are doing favors for one another. You receive more reward from Allah, and it is better to eat together and share words,” he said. Abu Isa said that holding iftar at the mosque is beneficial because it, “Causes everyone to feel the spirit of Ramadan and it helps to establish a connection between the masjid (mosque) and the community.”
John Doe attests that the food is restaurant quality, and according to the director, the menu changes everyday. On Sept. 17, Dar Al Hijra served musakhan, which is bread with olive oil, onions and chicken. Salad and rice are served everyday, but aside from these two items, the entrees are ever changing. If there are any leftovers, they are distributed after the initial meal to whoever wants to take food home. All of the food served is in compliance with Islamic dietary laws.
Several of the iftars will be geared towards including non-Muslim area residents in the festivities. Next Tuesday will be Spanish Flavor Night, during which Spanish food will be served and a religious speech will be given in Spanish. Mosque visitors are encouraged to bring church going friends the following week. This is part of an effort to strengthen interfaith relations in the area.