Sharing Iftar with my Sufi Brothers and Sisters at Dergah Al Farah

Islam is like clear water poured into different vessels. It takes the color and shape of each vessel.
– Shaykh Muzaffer al-Jerrahi

It was August 1st, 2013, Thursday evening. The weather was cool and quite pleasant compared to earlier weeks of 80-100 degree Fahrenheit heat. It was also raining intermittently. I was in Tribeca trying to find the Sufi mosque, Dergah Al Farah before the pace of the rain might quicken. I have been trying to dodge raindrops the past couple of days but haven’t been having much luck; fortunately I did have an umbrella with me. Dergah Al Farah is the gathering place of initiates (dervishes) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community (http://nurashkijerrahi.org/) led by Shaykha Fariha al-Jerrahi.

As the rain began to pour, I finally located the place. It is unassuming on the outside, a mere storefront. Looks can be quite deceiving. A friendly, spiritual place awaited on the other side of the door. I entered and placed my umbrella in a wastebasket so as not to spread unnecessary water all over the place. Some people were praying, others were listening to a videotape of Suras from the Quran with English subtitles. I took a seat on the floor against the wall and tried to dry out a bit before Maghrib time and subsequent Iftar. More people began coming in behind me. I could see the diversity in this place. There were whites, blacks, browns as well as people representing several different countries. Such is the beauty of Islam. There were also little children playing nearby. I could feel the peace and tranquility in this place. It was so relaxing and distressing!

Right after Maghrib time approached, everyone was served water and luscious dates to break the day’s Ramadhan fast. A few moments later, we were lining up for prayer. At Dergah Al Farah, men stand on the left and women stand beside them on the right. This is quite different from other masjids I have attended. I am more accustomed to having the women in a separate area, sometimes, even behind a barrier. My personal view is that it seems to make more sense, side by side, stripped of cultural influences.

After Maghrib prayer, the entire group retired upstairs to the 2nd floor where food was served, people began to mingle and get to know each other and children were children! Truly a wonderful sight for a grandfather like myself.

dergah-al-farah-facade-by-tribeca-citizen

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Breaking One’s Fast during Ramadhan- Iftar

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

One of the times most looked toward to during the month of Ramadhan is Iftar, the ending of fasting for the day.

A lot of Americans are not aware that more than 200 years ago, President Jefferson hosted a sunset dinner because it was Ramadhan, for his guest, the first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia. This is the first known Iftar at the White House. Former President Bush and President Obama followed the tradition.

This religious observance takes place directly after Maghrib time, which connotes the sunset prayer. This is an especially good time in New York because of the diversity of Muslim cultures. Whether participating in the offering of food to the poor as a form of charity, a practice dating back to Prophet Muhammad, or just socializing and getting to “know your neighbor,” it brings a better sense of awareness among people. I have a personal belief that “food brings people together.” There are so many different cuisines! Lamb sausage, chicken rolls, Shami Kebabs, samosas, pakoras, these are my personal favorites and I love to eat!

This month I have had the pleasure of sharing Iftar with an Egyptian family who has owned a bagel shop on the Upper East Side for over 20 years. I frequent the place, weekly. Earlier in the week, I shared Iftar with a discussion group I regularly attend. Last night I attended Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah, a predominantly Indonesian Mosque in Queens.

I have often said the world is a beautiful place. As I strive to improve my sense of compassion and humility, my eyes are cleared and I am able to see just how beautiful it is…

Nasi Goreng

A little more than a year ago, I was in Jakarta, Indonesia for a brief vacation.  I came across a dish that I used to make in Brooklyn for my brother and my niece when we were all quite young. Me being the oldest of the group, I considered myself a bit industrious in the kitchen. My trip to Jakarta triggered the memory of a meal I had long since forgotten.

We didn’t have much food in those days and there were times that I would have to watch the two of them. I would have to make do with whatever was leftover in the refrigerator.  I did not know that what I was making at the time was a variation of an Indonesian dish or for that matter a variation of something that could be picked up at your local Chinese restaurant. I am of the opinion that this dish is quite popular throughout parts of Asia and maybe even South America.

I would take some leftover rice, chopped onions, two eggs, some green peas or peas and carrots and fry it all in a little butter. I would also take a couple of pieces of leftover chicken, slice and dice it up and add that to the mixture. This turned into a meal “fit for both pauper and prince”.

Recently, I concocted a “modified” version of my “nasi goreng”(fried rice). I went to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, greeted the owner, “Gong Hai Fa Cai” (Happy New Year!). (I like to “show a little love” to those who make my food…) I ordered a simple shrimp fried rice dish for takeout. When I got home, I scrambled two eggs, added some green peas and a generous serving of hot sauce to spice it up. A friend had brought me some frozen dumplings from Trader Joe’s that I wanted to try. I nuked those and added them as a side dish. Voila! A meal fit for a king!

I tell you this story because I truly realize that there is more that we have in common than that which should keep us apart. We all eat variations of the same foods! There is a passage in the Quran,  “We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (49:13) I believe that.

We all know the difference between good and evil. Embrace what is good and condemn that which is evil. Try to be less selfish and more selfless. Exercise compassion in your personal lives. These things mean more to me, as I get older. We grow physically closer to each other with advances in transportation and communication. Strive to know your neighbor. He is closer to you than you imagine.  And remember, diversity is our strength!