Ramadan trend: Iftar emerges as high-profile social event
In the Muslim world, breaking the daily fast at sunset was once a family event. Now it's upscale and political.
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In Cairo, people now flock to exclusive restaurants, clubs and hotels to break their fast as well as to see and be seen, spending on one dinner what the average Egyptian earns in two weeks.Skip to next paragraph
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The Cairo Marriott has 16 formal salons and ballrooms where they can host iftars for up to 1,000 guests. So far this month, clients like Vodafone and Mercedes Benz have hosted iftars at the hotel, holding events are that vaguely akin to office Christmas parties in North America.
Hesham Serry is the Cairo office manager for KGL Shipping, an Egyptian-Bahraini firm hosting its annual corporate iftar in the ornate room, which is lined with gold-framed mirrors and dripping with crystal chandeliers. He says they host an event like this every year because "it's Islamic tradition."
"Every company has to have an iftar for its clients and employees, it's Islam," he says. "But it's also kind of public relations. You could say this is half tradition and half PR."
In Turkey, hosting a large iftar dinner is now almost something of a requirement for many public figures and organizations. Even Turkey's chief rabbi now hosts an iftar, something he has been doing for the last eight years.
"I have an iftar to go to almost every night. I've only had a chance to have iftar with my family two times this Ramadan," says Cemal Usak, secretary-general of the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, an Istanbul-based group that organizes interfaith programs and which has hosted three iftars of its own this Ramadan. He has mixed feelings about the trend: "It's becoming more and more a social activity than a religious activity."
In India, local media reported that many of the iftar dinner parties hosted by top politicians have been canceled out of respect for the millions of people displaced by flooding.
Some of the politicians, the Times of India reported, were busy helping with relief efforts instead. One former minister canceled his iftar dinner party and said he was sending the money that would have been spent on the dinner to support relief efforts.
The High Commission issued a statement saying that "in solidarity with our friends in Pakistan, whose grief we share, we are calling off the reception."
In Turkey, at least, which is governed by the Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party, some also see a bit of politicking in the proliferation of public iftars.
"In one sense, it can be said that some rich people, some businessmen, and organizations are trying to show themselves as practicing Muslims by doing this," Usak says. "It might be a kind of sign, a kind of message to the ruling party."
• Liam Stack contributed from Cairo.