Cooking the Faith: Breaking a Fast and Building Community

Cooking in Sufi Mosque

Women prepare dinner at the Sufi Mosque. Photo by Ramaa Raghavan

Food brings people together, especially in houses of worship. For centuries women from various religious faiths have cooked and served meals that unite people, whether around a table or within a congregation.

Feet in 2 Worlds set out to discover the foods women make and serve at religious gatherings around the New York metropolitan area—from a Sufi mosque in suburban New York to a Buddhist temple in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

This is the first installment in a four-part series.

Located in a house covered with climbing ivy, the Jerrahi Order of America doesn’t look like a mosque. But on a warm summer evening during Ramadan, the members of this Turkish Sufi Muslim tariqah (order) in suburban Rockland County, New York, are beginning to gather for the iftar meal that breaks the day-long fast.

The congregation shares a communal dinner every Saturday at the Durgah (Sufi meeting place), but during Ramadan when they are fasting, they get together four times a week to cook and share the iftar meal.

In the kitchen two sisters and one of their daughters are busy preparing dinner for about 150 people. Different families take turns hosting iftars, and the menus vary according to the cooks’ home cuisines.

“People make whatever they feel good about,” said Hilal Morgan, a senior Dervish (a Sufi ascetic). “We could have Pakistani food or Turkish, but today I am making chili because our sheik [religious leader] loves it.”

In addition to the chili and rice, the sisters are making a plate of tomato, basil, and cheese, guacamole, carrot soup, salad and dessert.

“We love Ramadan because it brings us together,” says Aycha Rae, originally from Turkey, who is helping to prepare the meal. “We break fast together, eat together, and pray together. Ramadan is part of giving and sharing and it is a blessing to serve a dinner to someone who is fasting.”

Sufi Mosque shared meal

A shared meal at the Sufi Mosque. Photo by Ramaa Raghavan

Just after 8:00 p.m. the call to prayer sounds, and iftar begins with dates and water. Then the members of the congregation take their places at the table, and volunteers swiftly bring out course after course: appetizers, main dishes, and dessert. The women will eat only after the congregation is fed.

Read Part 2 in this series Cooking the Faith: An Indian Feast of Equality

Seated around the tables sharing in the meal are Jerrahi members from Turkey, Afghanistan, South America, Pakistan, and Germany, as well as several American converts like Morgan and her family.

“One of the things that keeps me here is that there are so many different people from all over the world,” Morgan says. “The differences between our nationalities, our ages, our backgrounds just fall away, and we are all connected on a basic level as human beings.”

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

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