Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims that commemorates the first revelation of the Quran, will end next week with the Islamic religious holiday known as Eid-al-Fitr, or the “festival of breaking of the fast.” It’s a joyous occasion that begins with prayer and is followed by feasting.

Unlike, say, Thanksgiving in this country, food traditions for Eid-al-Fitr are far more individual. For the holiday, Muslims dress up, and give money, clothes and food to the poor so that they, too, may celebrate. Children receive candy and presents.

Feasting is especially welcome after Ramadan, during which Muslims refrain from consuming anything – even water – between sunrise and sunset. Each evening, after the sun goes down, they gather together for iftar, the breaking of the daily fast. The holiday began on June 6 this year and will end July 5 or 6, depending on when the new moon first appears.

“For me and my family, Ramadan is when you feel hunger, and you thank God because it’s precious how you can eat,” said Zoe Sahloul of Falmouth, executive director of the New England Arab American Organization, a new nonprofit group formed earlier this year to help Arab immigrants integrate into American society. “And you think, ‘There are people who cannot eat.’ ”

This year, for the first time, a special community Eid-al-Fitr celebration with music, games for children and a huge meal will be held July 9 in Westbrook, hosted by the New England Arab American Organization.

“Muslim or not, we’re inviting everyone to come and share a good meal,” Sahloul said.

We spoke with four Maine residents from three countries in the Middle East and Palestine to hear about the role food plays in their Eid celebrations.

Lebanon native Zoe Sahloul loves dolmas – stuffed grape leaves – but never makes them during Ramadan because she is not allowed to taste anything while she’s fasting, and the recipe is too time-consuming to get it wrong. On the first day of Eid, though, (the holiday can last one to three days) expect to find her in the kitchen stuffing dolmas. “I have my power back,” she says. “I have my energy back.”

On Eid, Sahloul’s family often shares a big meal featuring a lot of meat and rice with a couple of other local families. Some families prefer to eat fish, Sahloul said, while a Palestinian family she knows always has a barbecue brunch.

“Usually in the morning, in Lebanon back home, people that can afford it go buy meat or they slaughter a sheep, and then they donate that to people who could not afford to have meat for Eid,” Sahloul said. “Here what we do is we donate to the mosque, and then the people responsible in the mosque go and distribute that.”

Zoe Sahloul lightheartedly says she has no choice about her family’s evening meals during Ramadan itself. Every night, without fail, she has to make her husband’s favorite lentil soup and a fattoush salad.

“The whole of Ramadan I have to cook it,” she said. “When you eat it, you squeeze lemon on top. It’s very, very good.”

She also makes several small dishes, which might include a few appetizers, a chicken dish, or kibbeh, a popular Lebanese dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and ground lamb or beef with Middle-Eastern spices. Each evening after dinner, she prepares food for the following night’s iftar.

Sanaa Abduljabbar comes from Mosul, a city in Iraq now controlled by the militant Islamic group ISIS.

For her, the most important part of Ramadan and the Eid-al-Fitr celebration is not food for herself and her family, but the focus on charity. Particularly close to her heart this year are family members who have fled Iraq to get away from ISIS, and a good friend who is now living in a safe part of northern Iraq but has four children to feed.

“We know they are struggling, so we try to collect money,” she said, “and my husband is trying to put some money aside during this Ramadan to send to our family.”

On Eid, Abduljabbar and her family, who now live in Portland, visit two or three other families they know who are also from Mosul. They eat lunch or dinner and dessert together.

“We don’t have specific dishes for Eid,” she said. “I can make whatever they would like on that day.” Most of the time, though, she makes Iraqi food.

One family favorite is oroug, a baked patty filled with ground lamb, onions, green pepper, parsley, tomatoes and – if you like a little spice –- a small piece of hot pepper. The dough is made from jarish, a kind of bulgur wheat. Before they’re put into the oven, the patties are brushed with a mixture of oil, tomato paste, and egg. The oroug are typically eaten with a salad and lentil soup.

A typical Ramadan meal for the family starts with a cup of lentil soup – it’s easy on the stomach after a day of fasting, Abduljabbar says – followed by rice with chicken or a meat dish served with vegetables.

Anwar al Shareefi and her family are celebrating their first Ramadan and first Eid in America. They arrived here from Jordan just six months ago, and are now living in Westbrook.

“We want to start a new life here,” she said. “I like it. I think it’s a good place where you can start again.”

In Jordan, she fasted 15 hours a day during Ramadan, but here it is closer to 19 hours. “It’s a little bit different, but that’s OK,” she said. (The number of fasting hours varies from country to country depending on the time between sunrise and sunset.)

Al Shareefi said she breaks her daily fast by eating yogurt and dates, and drinking a cup of water. “That’s how we prepare our stomach to be able to eat after the long day,” she said.

Next comes some Arabic bread, or maybe white rice “because it has quick energy for us.” Main dishes might include Musakhan, a mixture of bread, chicken, onion and fragrant spices roasted together until it is “so delicious.” There may also be a vegetable or potato soup and a salad. Dessert is likely to be bassboosa (or basbousa), a traditional Middle Eastern semolina cake soaked in syrup.

At the end of Ramadan in Jordan, al Shareefi said, families visit each other and make ma’amoul especially for Eid. Children, and even older people, are given money. And, like millions of other Muslim families around the world, they share their food with the poor.

“You should give them the best thing that you have,” al Shareefi said. “The kind of food that you want to eat yourself, you should give it to them.”

Deen Haleem, a Portland restaurateur who owns Tiqa, was born Muslim of Palestinian descent and still considers himself Muslim, “but I would have to tell you that I’m probably not the best-practicing Muslim.”

Still, whenever he can, he travels to see his family in Chicago to celebrate Eid al Fitr.

“I haven’t been as good as (at visiting) since I’ve gotten into the world of restaurants,” he said. When you’re a kid, Eid is like Christmas, he said, with children unable to sleep because they’re anticipating money and candy. As for the adults, they get to enjoy “one of the best meals of the year,” he said. In his family, that means a whole lamb accompanied by rice with raisins and pine nuts. Just as the vast majority of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, all across Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Morrocco, he said, “a whole cooked lamb will still be the most common dish.”

“It’s commonly stuffed with wild rice and all kinds of dressings,” Haleem said. “There’s a dry rub on it. It goes into the oven for four or five hours. The fat from the lamb melts into the rice and just creates amazing flavor.”

Haleem says his family gradually immigrated from Palestine to the United States beginning in the 1920s, when his great-great-grandfather, who served with the U.S. military in World War II, brought them over a few at a time. “My dad was the last of all my uncles and aunts to hold out,” he said. Haleem’s immediate family immigrated from their village on the West Bank to Jordan, then Kuwait, and arrived in Chicago in 1972.

Haleem’s favorite Eid desserts include ma’amoul – cookies stuffed with either dates or nuts such as pistachios and walnuts – and qataif, which are dessert crepes stuffed with cheese or mixed nuts. Haleem has a version of qataif on Tiqa’s brunch menu.

Haleem said just the smell of qataif being fried or the sound of ma’amoul being knocked out of their molds for baking can transport him back to his childhood and family Eid celebrations.

Haleem described hospitality at Eid-al-Fitr, as “voracious” – in the best possible way.

“If you and I walked into a Middle Eastern home on Eid al Fitr just before they started dinner,” he said, “I could guarantee you we would be invited to sit and have dinner with them.”

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