Solitude in the Crowd: the Journey into Iftar

Photo Essay by Ushbah Al-Ain

This is a collection of photographs I have taken over the last six years, chronicling moments leading into Iftar during the Islamic month of Ramadan

Iftar is the opening meal after a dry fast at sunset, upon the call of the fourth obligatory daily prayer of Maghrib. In some parts of the world, a dry fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan can last up to twenty-one hours. By congregating through daily Iftar preparation, shared meals, and prayers, observers are reminded of the ease that can be found in community in the face of adversity.

As I get older, I am more aware of how much my body slows down and the intentionality that goes into preparing food and later consuming it. As such even though fasting is very much a communal act – it can often result in the phenomenon of ‘solitude in the crowd’, as often explored by faith-based practitioners across spiritual disciplines. 

Ramadan can also be a time when a lot of Muslims choose to give charity and provide resources to communities in need on a much larger scale. The motivation is to devote oneself through the service of the Creation to please the Creator. As such many donors and organizations around the world facilitate free meal preparation and distribution for those in need of food and/or community, especially at the time of Iftar. These meals often tend to be simple in their presentation but nutritious and filling after a day of hunger and dehydration. Many donors choose to remain anonymous, thus some facilitating free meals have not been mentioned in this essay. 

There are many observers who choose not to observe dry fasting due to physical ailments, mental health reasons, and/or lack of a support structure throughout the month. This can also mean observers choosing to dedicate their efforts to abstention from behaviors and practices that are more subtle and not quite communal.

Ultimately the opening of the dry fast at Iftar is only one aspect of the month of Ramadan and it does help to remember that devotion can be as varied as the devotees themselves.

City dwellers awaiting the Maghrib call to prayer at the steps of Al Noor mosque in the city of Sharjah, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Freshly made Regag bread at family owned Sharjah bakery, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Fresh Jalebi being made for chai at Iftar, Punjab, Pakistan (Ramadan 2016)
Ramadan Tent Project's Open Iftar in London Bloomsbury, United Kingdom (Ramadan 2019)
Blueberries ready to be devoured whole near Bricklane, London, United Kingdom (Ramadan 2019)
Karachi Grill's team preparing meal packs for delivery, Dubai, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Family bakers preparing Regag bread for Iftar in Sharjah, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Expat workers congregating in Sharjah for Iftar, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Dried Apricots to be processed en masse for chutney in Lahore, Pakistan (Ramadan 2016)
Turkish Pomegranate sliced open as part of chaat preparation in Muscat, Oman (Ramadan 2021)
Chaat prep in the Karachi Grill kitchen, Dubai, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Biriyani portions being prepared for Iftar free meal distribution in Sharjah, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Workers from the subcontient region sitting down and waiting for call to prayer to open fast as a congregation in Sharjah, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Freshly baked naan ready to be packed as part of the free Iftar meals being distributed daily by the Karachi Grill restaurant (Ramadan 2022)
A fruit vendor in Aldgate East calling upon customers to buy the freshest produce for Iftar prep, London, United Kingdom (Ramadan 2019)
Restaurant owner pictured with Iftar offerings in the city of Umm Al Quwwain, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Sweet dumplings Luqaimat ready to be served for Iftar, Muscat, Oman (Ramadan 2021)
Homemade naan-khatai garnished with dyed pistachio and almonds in a Homerton flat in London (Ramadan 2019)
Biriyani rice being mixed to serve approximately 500 attendees at daily free Iftar in Sharjah, UAE (Ramadan 2022)
Iftar decorations, Dubai, UAE (Ramdan 2022)
Eygptian Baklava and Orange slices at Muttrah Souq, Oman (Ramadan 2021)
Iranian Saffron used for chai and desserts for Iftar in a Muscat home (Ramadan 2020)
Dubai resident walking home for Iftar (Ramadan 2022)