It is the month of Ramadan (Ramzan) in the Islamic calendar and, for those who believe in it, each day of the month follows an identical routine: a fast from sunrise to sunset. At sundown, after a whole day of not eating or even taking a sip of water, the fast is broken. It is the time when the family gets together and eats a light but energy-giving healthy meal. This is Iftar, or the meal that breaks the fast.
But ask anyone about the famed Iftar parties and the response: “Oh Iftar! Hi-fi parties. That’s one place where politics and authentic mughlai food mingle…”
So, how many of us know what the term Iftar party really signifies? What is this new meaning of that word? Are Iftar parties as we know them a new phenomenon or have they been part of the Ramzan ethos always? Recently, I discovered something interesting that I wanted to share with you.
To start with, the meaning of Eid-ul-Fitr has to be clarified. This one month of fast is a period meant to be devoted to self-purification, helping the poor and concentrate on God. It is not a time to enjoy or feast. Unfortunately, this is what Iftar parties have come to signify.
Also, little to no non-vegetarian food is consumed during this period. The traditional food includes energy-giving dates, sweetmeats and seviyan (vermicelli pudding). The scientific reason behind this is that after a whole day of fasting, a light and healthy meal is recommended. However, Iftar parties now connote a time feasting with “mouth-watering kababs, good mughlai food and palao gosht.” The dates and seviyan are sidelined into insignificance.
Difficult to believe though it is, at an Iftar party organized by the Speaker to the Lok Sabha (House of Commons) G M C Balayogi recently, several people were shocked when music was played!
Over time, the Iftar too has changed in character. Just like corporates and businesses take the opportunity to cash in on Diwali and Christmas sentiments by sending sweets and cakes to build their company image and get favours, similarly the feelings behind Iftar are exploited. Politicians have started throwing Iftar parties for politically influential Muslims in order to woo the Muslims and get their votes.
So how did the concept of Iftar get so badly distorted?
It was Jawaharlal Nehru, former Prime Minister, who started holding Iftar parties for ambassadors from Arabic countries. His daughter, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, continued this tradition. Apart from inviting Arab ambassadors, she also called elite members of the Muslim League, a political organisation.
However, it was only after the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 that Iftar parties became ostentatious affairs. Almost every minister started holding the party, trying to outdo the other with even more non-vegetarian food. And now, by having music!! The press is invited to write about the parties. Who attended whose party is a prestige issue and sometimes political statements are made.
While some really devout Muslims refuse to attend these types of parties, there are several who do. It is the place to make contacts with political heavy weights. Lately, even several smaller government officials have started throwing these parties, making iftar a status symbol instead of what it really stands for…