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…

Thinking pleasant, uplifting thoughts…

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When I last checked it was 106 F in NYC. Today is the ninth day of Ramadhan. For those of you who are not aware, Ramadhan (also known as Ramadan or Ramzan) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is a period of prayer, fasting, charity-giving and self-accountability for Muslims in the United States as well as the rest of the world. The first verses of the Qu’ran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the last third of Ramadhan, making this an especially holy period.

The period when Muslims end their fast at the end of each day is called Iftar. There are no special foods that need be eaten to break one’s fast, but your body may have special nutritional needs which should be met. Traditionally, a lot of Muslims will end their daily fast by consuming a few dates. This is a staple fruit found in the Middle East that is an excellent source of fiber, sugar, minerals and carbohydrates. This will generally aid the body in maintaining health.

The important thing is to avoid over-eating! Meals should consist of some vegetables, salads, chicken or fish or lean meat such as lamb or beef, grains such as rice, bread or pasta, and a serving of fruit. Drinking lots of water is very important and cannot be overstressed!

One must remember that this is a time of introspection. It should be about cultivating better character and humility. It is about learning that one can “do without,” and reconnecting with God (SWT).

For some reason, I feel particularly “amorous” today. Everyone gets a smile from me, today. It is far too hot to exert the energy to be grim. I will place a bowl of ice cubes and water outside for the wild animals that may be hanging out in the neighborhood. Most of all, I will think pleasant, uplifting thoughts today.

I think there is a lesson to be learned during this harsh weather. We all suffer to some degree, some more than others. We can all endure the plight a little better with just a slight gesture from others. All it takes is a smile or a bowl of water for a few stray animals. Try it! You will feel better…

Observing Layt al-Qadr at New York University on the night of August 14, 2012

A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to attend Layt al-Qadr (the Night of Power) with members of the NYU community. This event happens during the last part of Ramadhan. Layt al-Qadr is considered the most appropriate time of the entire year to pray for salvation and blessings. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

It is the Holiest night in the Holiest month on the Islamic calendar. I with many others spent the entire night in prayer at NYU seeking forgiveness for our sins and help from God (SWT) to accomplish our objectives in life.

It was a most enlightening experience. Normally I tend to do things in solitude but for some reasons lately I have wanted to be with other like-minded people. I found the group of university people most invigorating. Even at 60, I was able to keep up with them in prayer throughout the night.

About this night, it is said:

BEHOLD, from on high have We bestowed this [divine writ] on Night of Destiny. And what could make thee conceive what it is, that Night of Destiny? The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months: in hosts descend in it the angels, bearing divine inspiration by their Sustainer’s leave; from all [evil] that may happen does it make secure, until the rise of dawn. [Qur’an, Chapter 97, Asad translation]

For a better description of the meaning of Layt al-Qadr than I could ever provide, I refer you to a post by Imam Khalid Latif, University Chaplain for NYU, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU and Chaplain for the NYPD. He refers to it in his August 14th, 2012 blog for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/imam-khalid-latif/ramadan-reflection-day-26-laylatul-qadr_b_1776336.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003).

It started with us breaking fast (Iftar) at the Islamic Center at New York University, performing the Magrib prayer and subsequent Isha prayer and later moving to a residence hall where people were to pray throughout the night.

I left the first part of the event and proceeded at a slow leisurely pace to the residence hall where the second part was held. I seemed to be trying to kill time before attending the main event. I stopped at Madison Square Park and sat for a while. I observed people strolling, other people sitting and still others just trying to enjoy this balmy evening. I took to walking along the side streets. I noticed a few hobos sleeping outside a pristine building. I wondered why this condition had to exist. They seemed so content sleeping under the stars.

Finally moving on, I made it to the residence hall. I could see that it was starting to get crowded. Perhaps more people were going to be there than originally was expected.

While waiting for the proper mindset and prayers to begin, I couldn’t help overhearing a couple of brothers talking about baseball. I thought, when was the last time you heard “suspected terrorists” talking about baseball. But then again, they weren’t suspected terrorists to me. They were my brothers in faith. They were as “American as apple pie,” with many of the same basic values as anyone else and yet I am sure they are probably highly scrutinized every time they tried to board a plane.

The Imam spoke briefly about getting in the right frame of mind for prayer and the seriousness of the event. My thoughts became more focused. I began to think about what I sought forgiveness for and what I myself needed Allah (SWT)’s assistance to do.  I also thought about the hobos, and the impoverished throughout the world. I have always been an idealist.

Finally we all lined up and began to pray in unison. I will just say that everything about the ritual was very systematic and well coordinated. My left knee began to ache halfway though, a couple of hours later, but it didn’t seem to matter to me. “God does not burden beyond one’s capacity.” It was a truly defining moment. Imagine if you can, standing before the Creator and being able to ask forgiveness for your transgressions and for hope of a better tomorrow…

Toward the end of the event, I heard the sound of thunder outside and felt as if someone was trying to get my attention. I was listening…!

In the end I prayed that Allah (SWT) listened to my prayer and supplications and acknowledged them.