What Eid-al-Fitr Looks Like in the Bay Area During Shelter-in-Place

Women at a Black Iftar before the pandemic. (Black Iftar)

As the holy month of Ramadan is coming to a close, many Muslims in the Bay Area and around the world are reimagining what the typically buoyant Eid-al-Fitr looks like under shelter-in-place. During the month of fasting and reflection, communal prayers and meals that mark Ramadan have become more localized events at home with extended family and sermons from imams broadcasts via Zoom.

“On weekends, everybody wants to break fast with friends and family.” says Zareen Khan who owns popular South Asian eatery Zareen’s in Palo Alto and Mountain View. “[There's] usually a communal Iftar [at the mosque] which is very good for the community. Now, sadly, this is not there and a lot of it is being done on Zoom. Everybody is trying to adapt, including businesses.” This year, Khan has been offering two special dishes she grew up eating during Ramadan on her restaurants’ menu. One of them is falooda, a rose-flavored dessert drink with glass noodles topped off with kulfi and nuts. “That's very popular,” Khan says. Zareen’s has also added the hearty lentil and wheat stew haleem, which Khan serves with chicken.

Back in 2018, Samira Abderahman created Black Iftar while living in her hometown of Chicago. Held at Black-owned restaurants and community centers, Abderahman sought to create a space where Black Muslims could commune, eat and sit in fellowship. “Chicago is hyper-segregated,” she says of the challenge of a centralized iftar experience. She added that she was frustrated with the lack of response and support for the Black Lives Matter by mosques. “How are the masjids so quiet in that regard?”

And so Black Iftar was born at Currency Exchange Cafe in Chicago’s Southside neighborhood. “I thought it was just going to be one night, me and my friends, different scholars and artists that I knew,” Abderahman explained. “It was that. But it went viral on Twitter, and people had so many opinions about it. Both in support of it, in admiration and also [criticism].” That same month, Black Iftar “chapters” spread to Los Angeles, the DMV and Houston.

Iftar meal
Iftar table setting at a previous Black Iftar event. (Black Iftar)

This year, things are a bit different for Abderahman, and she has some reluctance to move Black Iftar online. “I had my reservations [about the digital space] because I don't like being on the internet more than I need to be,” she says. “When Ramadan was beginning, people were grieving that they weren't going to be able to participate in the Ramadan that they once knew. Everybody was immediately pushing towards all these digital events all the time.” Abderahman decided to host four Zoom gatherings, one for each week of Ramadan.

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She describes her approach to Black Iftar as a “slow start.”
“Each one has had like 130, and the last one had 175 people in it,” says Abderahman with surprise. She also expressed joy at the geographic diversity at the virtual gatherings, including friends in Kenya. “It makes me so happy that people from all over the United States and different parts of the world are tuned in to hear something, just to be in communion.”

For Eid, which is set to falls on May 23 this year, Aberahman has been strictly isolating in preparation for a day of physical communion. “Me, my cousin and my other friends, we all committed to staying quarantined for two weeks so that we could spend Eid together,” she explained. “We also committed to dressing up.” The crew plans on ordering a big take-out order from an Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay.


Over at Zareen’s, Khan is planning a special celebration on Chand Raat, the evening the crescent moon appears signifying the end of Ramadan. “On that night, for the last six years I've been in business. We would have a fundraiser for any area that's in crisis,” she says. In past years, Khan gathered volunteers who did henna while she made special desserts and snacks that benefited an organization of her choice. Last year, it was the International Relief Committee and the White Helmets in Syria the year before. “We gather up to $7,000 to $10,000 every year,” Khan says. “It was really sad this time we're not able to do it, but my husband and I had an idea to do a Chand Raat celebration over Zoom.” This year, Khan is offering sheer khurma, an Eid specialty dessert, as well as kulfi at her restaurants, and sales will go toward Doctors Without Borders.

“Things are changing so fast with everything around us,” says Khan. “It has been a concerning and stressful time for all of us. But the silver lining for us is seeing the way the community has supported small businesses. It has been really heartwarming, amazing.” Khan says strangers have offered her money that she has refused, though she is touched by the effort. “The fact that [they] are offering is good enough. I want to give [them] a social distance hug!” she says. “It has been a revelation to me that restaurants are not just there to give food but they're there to comfort people, to make their day better and to serve your community. And now the community is supporting us and rallying for us.”