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Extra Sauce: Area Muslim and Jewish communities gather at iftar

July 11th 02:07pm, 2017



The sweating water cups on each table taunted every Muslim in the room. It was Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims during which they fast through daylight hours and focus on doing good works. They hadn’t had a sip of water since sunrise, and it was 8:27 p.m., three minutes away from sunset.

Newlyweds Mariam Hashimi and Fardin Mohammadi kept their eyes on each other instead of their water glasses. “It’s a reflex to drink a glass of water that’s in front of you,” Hashimi said. “But you get used to catching yourself just before you grab the cup.”

The St. Louis Jewish Community Center isn’t the first place that springs to mind when picturing an iftar, the meal Muslims eat to break the fast. But that night, the Jewish Community Relations Council had invited their Muslim neighbors to the JCC for an interfaith iftar dinner.

“There are a lot of Jews and Muslims in the world, and what you hear about is strife. We have to remember that’s not everybody,” said Rabbi Hyim Shafner. “This meal is an opportunity to appreciate our commonality. We have so much in common! And no matter how holy we are, we all eat.”

Imam Dr. Helal Ekramuddin began the prayer, during which Hashimi and Mohammadi grabbed two dates and drained their waters. Paul Kravitz, a Jewish man seated next to them, followed their lead. After the prayer, Hashimi and Kravitz fell into conversation about how fasting is a part of most religions.




While the diners may have different beliefs, everyone had their fill of fried dough, samosas, tabbouleh and maqluba (get the recipe here) – all kosher and made by Akram Ali-Hassan, a Palestinian Muslim who has worked for Kohn’s Kosher Meat & Deli Restaurant for 20 years.

“Maqluba is upside-down lamb and rice, the most traditional dish in kitchens in Palestine,” he said. “My father brought this recipe with him when he and his family became refugees of Palestine in 1948.”

These two cultures united in spite of – or maybe because of – their sometimes tangled, volatile history. “Seeing the human face of each other makes it difficult for bigots to bring divisions and demonize ‘the other,’” said Dr. Bahar Bastani, a professor at Saint Louis University.




Hashimi and Kravitz passed plates of nut-and-honey filled fried dough called ataif as Mohammadi joked about having to work the grill in his family’s restaurant while fasting during Ramadan. Around the room, Muslims and Jews shared dessert, stories and old family recipes.

“People of different Abrahamic faiths have much more in common than differences,” said Ghazala Hayat, public relations committee chair of the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis. “The basics of celebrations are the same: gratitude, family and friends. Sharing bread makes us part of the same community.”

Photos by Glenn Reigelman for the Jewish Community Relations Council 

Shannon Cothran is a contributing writer for Sauce Magazine. 

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Editor’s Note: This piece originally said Imam Asif Umar led the prayer. Also, a paraphrase was incorrectly attributed to Bahar Bastani. It was updated at 3:15 p.m. to correct these errors. 


By Shannon Cothran

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