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As Ramadan nears an end, St. Louis Muslims want people of all faiths to enjoy iftars

Muslims and other community members gathered Tuesday at the Afghan Chamber of Commerce to pray and to eat an evening meal during the holy month of Ramadan.
Andrea Henderson
St. Louis Public Radio
Muslims and other community members gather Tuesday at the Afghan Chamber of Commerce to pray and to eat an evening meal during the holy month of Ramadan.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Akbar Rashidi enjoys spending time with his family and friends at iftar celebrations — the evening meals people partake in to break their fasts. He talks with younger Muslims and catches up with old friends, but he also enjoys meeting people at dinners who are from different backgrounds and various faith groups.

“To come in here together and sitting with everybody is a big thing for us,” said Rashidi, 31. “If you look around here you don't just see all the Afghans. You see people from everywhere; everyone gets together.”

Muslims across the St. Louis region are encouraging people of all faiths to celebrate with them during evening iftar meals before the end of Ramadan next weekend. Observers gather at sunset for daily prayers, reflections and dinners at mosques, family homes or community centers. Most meals contain traditional foods with vegetables, potatoes, halal meats, fruits, chutneys, breads and sweets.

Anyone can take part in iftar celebrations. During Ramadan everyone should have an opportunity to eat because it is a season of giving and there are many dinners happening across the area, said Rashidi, a businessman who arrived from Afghanistan in 2001.

For some Muslims, the iftar celebrations help them remember home. Razia Azizi started fasting at 12, right before she moved to St. Louis from Afghanistan. The 18-year-old high school senior said fasting during Ramadan in St. Louis is different than in Afghanistan, where large families observe it together.

“Sometimes my family is at work and I have to sit alone and do my iftar alone,” she said.

Even though Azizi might eat dinner alone some days, she is thankful for the iftars around the community. She said the gatherings are peaceful and enjoyable. Fasting while in school can be difficult for Azizi, because she grew used to being out of school during Ramadan in Afghanistan.

“It's stressful because some teachers don't know [about fasting]. Whenever we say that we're fasting, they're being understanding, but give a lot of work at the same time and having a lot of tests at the same time could make it stressful,” Azizi said. “We don't eat much and we don't drink much … so we can't focus on the learning and focus on our class too.”

For Umama Khenissi, fasting and praying at work sometimes can be hard as well. The manager at Employment Connection typically likes to pray at home to be in solitude with God.

Khenissi grew up living half the year in St. Louis and half in Tunisia, in northeastern Africa. She said she has seen various Ramadan traditions among different racial groups.

The Tunisian American used to celebrate iftar alone but now spends her evenings at iftar gatherings of family members or goes for an evening meal or an ice cream run with friends to talk about Ramadan and learn about other religions and traditions.

Last year, Khenissi hosted a webinar for people to learn about Ramadan. She sold tickets and donated the proceeds to the International Institute of St. Louis. She hopes her lessons will help people understand other religions.

“I've been using it kind of like a tool because I know that my friends and people want to learn and want to be a part of it,” she said. “They just don't want to be offensive if they ask a question.”

Regional Iftar Celebrations:

April 13

  • 7 p.m. — Afghan Chamber of Commerce 

April 15-22

  • 7:15 p.m. — Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis 

April 15

  • 6 p.m. — Muslims of St. Louis at St. Louis City Hall 
  • 7 p.m. — Congregation Shaare Emeth, Parkway United Church of Christ and the Turkish American Society of Missouri host a tri-faith dinner at Shaare Emeth
  • 7 p.m. — Northwest Islamic Center of St. Louis 
Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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