Ramadan dinner with new friends

Every night during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims come together to break their daily fast. But not all Muslims, especially new converts, have families or friends at hand.

A Calgary group is pairing new converts with Muslim families

A Calgary group is matching Muslim families with people who don't have a friends and family to break fast with on Ramadan. (Submitted by Erin Van Overloop)

Every night during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims come together to break their daily fast.

But not all Muslims, especially new converts, have families or friends at hand.

This Ramadan, a group called The Western Muslim Initiative has been organizing nightly get-togethers which pairs single Muslims with families in Calgary.  

The meal

Baklava is a common treat after a day of fasting, especially in Turkish traditions. (Submitted by Erin Van Overloop)

Murad Ayalp worked for hours Sunday to host an Iftar — the nightly feast that breaks a day of fasting during Ramadan.

"I am making an eggplant dish," says Ayalp.

"It's a Turkish dish called Karniyarik. Basically, it's just kind of a baked eggplant, the inside is scooped out, mix that with ground beef, onions, garlic, allspice, nutmeg and mix it all together, pack it back in, and bake it again with cheese on top."

The meal will be served at 9:46 p.m MT — the exact moment the sun sets.

"The reason I wanted to host this dinner was, I wanted to connect more with my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. But there is also a benefit for them, as well. Because what I'm doing is I'm creating, I’m hosting a warm environment."

Erin Van Overloop, a board member with the Western Muslim Initiative, arranged the dinner.

The Iftar friendship program was started by Van Overloop last Ramadan.

"It's basically a program that matches up host families ... with people in the community who may be single, they may be Muslim converts, they may be here going to university," says Van Overloop.

"Just as a way to build bridges and build community."

The fast

After the dinner tea and turkish coffee are served. (Submitted by Erin Van Overloop)

Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days every Ramadan. The fast lasts from sun-up until sundown.

And when falls during the summer months in Calgary that can mean 16 hours without eating or drinking.

"It's basically a time of spiritual cleansing, a time to get closer to God, and then basically a time to get together with family members or community in the evening and break your fast together," says Van Overloop.

While Ayalp was born a Muslim, Erin was raised Catholic. She only recently converted to Islam.

"It was difficult for my family, it’s just a different routine and they had negative viewpoints that I kind of had to really work hard to dispel," she says.

The conversion wasn't easy for her either. She says her first Ramadan was lonely.

"That's common for converts unless you're married, or unless you are really included into the community," she says.

"I didn't know a lot of people, didn't have a place to go for Iftar."

New converts

Like many holidays, the night ended with a few laughs and a round of old-school Nintendo. (Submitted by Erin Van Overloop)

Starting the program gave Van Overloop a chance to help new converts, like Mariah Brown.

Brown converted to Islam when she got married. Last year was her first Ramadan.

"I wasn't sure what to expect at first. I was really excited to start it. But it actually went really well.  It was enjoyable, it was nice. It was like having Christmas dinner for a whole month straight."

Brown has a new goal for this Ramadan. Not only will she observe the fast, but she's also planning to read the entire Qur'an, front to back, during the 30 days.

"Some people, mashallah — mashallah, that means that's beautiful in the eyes of God — but, some people they can read the whole Qur'an like five times during the month of Ramadan, they're so dedicated," says Brown.

"My goal is to just try to read it once — hopefully I'll get it done."