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With iftar dinners, South Florida Muslim community hopes to build bridges during Ramadan

Lauren Costantino, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — They happen every night in homes, mosques and many other places in South Florida during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The faithful and their guests break a daylong fast during an evening meal called iftar — a celebration typically starting with the sugary, sticky bite of a date, said to be one of the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite foods.

These festive dinners tend to feature similar food and prayer but, as visits to iftars across Miami-Dade and Broward counties show, each also can be different, some reflecting the region’s multicultural influences. Empanadas, for instance, likely aren’t on a lot of traditional iftar tables.

Some South Florida iftars focus on lessons about Islamic tradition. Others aim at building bridges between faith groups. Some mosques in Broward joined in a grand iftar dinner to raise awareness and funds for Palestinian people caught in the Israel-Hamas war. Overall, many organizers say, the nightly gatherings have become increasingly popular and diverse — important in a era of deep social and political division.

“The iftar is taking over in South Florida. Cities are doing it, masjids are doing it. Politicians, elected officials are all coming to masjids,” said Imam Sheikh Shafayat Mohamed, founder of the Darul Uloom mosque in Pembroke Pines. “But what we need to do after Ramadan is to continue this relationship with other churches and synagogues.”

‘Record’ number of city-sponsored events

Though it is an ancient tradition for Muslims, iftar meals — starting in March and ending with a grand celebration, Eid al-Fitr, in mid April — aren’t solely for believers.

 

That was clear at multiple iftars in both counties, where plenty of non-Muslims were in attendance. Those included a “record number” of city-sponsored iftar dinners, mostly happening in Broward, where the Muslim population is estimated to be the highest among South Florida counties, according to the Samir Kakli, president of the South Florida Muslim Federation, which represents dozens of the regions’ mosques and Islamic schools.

At one city-sponsored iftar in Pembroke Pines — the first of its kind there — some city officials, faith leaders and members of various South Florida mosques made small talk while munching on dates and empanadas. Before breaking the fast, Imam Sheikh Shafayat Mohamed spoke about the importance of such interfaith events.

“I think it’s important especially now, for all of these cities and elected officials to get to know Islam, to get to know Muslims,” said Shafayat. “We don’t have to wait for some problem before we get together to socialize.”

At another iftar in Hallandale Beach, Dr. Barbara Sharief, former Broward county commissioner and the county’s first Black female and Muslim mayor, used her comments to touch on the charged topic of on-going war in the Middle East.

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