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Ramadan brings a flavor of the East to Bethlehem

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Ramadan Tent Dinner brings a flavor of the East to Bethlehem

About 100 Americans and Turks broke bread and baklava last week in Bethlehem.

The 10th annual Intercultural Dialogue and Friendship Ramadan Dinner celebrated the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar on Wednesday and Thursday nights in Bethlehem.

Hosted by Lehigh Dialogue Center, a program of prominent speakers and chanted prayer began at 7:30 p.m. Istanbul Grill on Broad Street served dinner at 8:15 p.m. alongside traditional Turkish coffee and Turkish delights from the LDC.

The event was free and open to the public. Other organizers and sponsors of the event were Peace Islands Institute, Turkish Cultural Center Pennsylvania and the City of Bethlehem.

A tent in Payrow Plaza, formerly known as Bethlehem City Hall Plaza, channeled traditions from the Mediterranean where tents are often set up in the streets of Turkey for people who cannot get home soon enough before sunset to break the fast during Ramadan.

The dinner included traditional Turkish cuisine. Red lentil soup is popular for breaking the fast before eating heavy food.

The meal’s rice, a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, is cooked in corn oil, butter and ground orzo for a smooth taste.The ground beef kebab, known as Adana Kofte in Turkey, is cooked with smashed onions and peppers.

The event’s invitation stated that its intent was to “raise awareness about the importance of interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the greater Lehigh Valley and Northampton area.”

According to their mission statement, members of the Dialogue Center aim to bridge cultures between Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the community.

Understanding Ramadan

Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan, according to leaflets handed out by the Lehigh Dialogue Center. This year, Ramadan began the evening of July 19 and will end the evening of Aug. 18.

Ramadan is a holy month to Muslims, who believe that during this time the holy book Quran was sent down from heaven to lead people to salvation, according to TheEid.com.

Fast breaking time is a holy moment during each day of Ramadan, which unites communities around the world during Ramadan/Iftar dinners, according to the Lehigh Dialogue Center.

The Christmas City celebrates Ramadan in style
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who attended the Ramadan Tent Dinner says he sees significance in uniting cultures of the East and West.

The event was appropriate in Payrow Plaza, where the Christmas City displays a nativity scene and where a menorah lighting has taken place since 2009 during the winter holiday season, Callahan says.

To close the night,  younger women in the Turkish community brewed traditional Turkish coffee, a small, strong cup of coffee with cardamom.

The women wore flowing scarves to symbolize their devotion to God and to share the latest fashion trends in Turkey of intricate designs and vivid color.

Unity through diversity

The Lehigh Dialogue Center also hosts trips to Turkey. Its annual 10-day summertime tour of Turkey took place June 15 to June 25 this year. Roseann Bowerman and her husband Douglas, of Bethlehem, went on the tour and stayed an extra two days to take in the air of the East, she says.

“The group that is hosting us tonight and [hosted] the trip very much emphasizes intercultural and interreligious understanding,” she says.

The family connection in the East, Bowerman observes, is often lost in the West. In Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, generations enjoy being together, whereas the idea of the extended family isn’t as common in the U.S. Events such as the Ramadan Tent Dinner are inspiring unity, bringing families from the East and the West closer together, Bowerman says.

Murat Guzel, a delegate for President Barack Obama, moved to Bethlehem from Malatya, Turkey. He owns Smart Juice, an organic juice company in Bethlehem. He, too, appreciates Ramadan as a time of generosity.

“Since we’re all human, we love to host people and we want to host our neighbors,” says Guzel. “We need to use Ramadan as a chance to start (getting involved) in our community matters and volunteer time and donate generously.”

For more information on the Lehigh Dialogue Center, including its upcoming events and cooking classes, visit lehighdialogue.org.

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Lehigh Dialogue Center will also host keynote speaker Dr. Christian S. Krokus at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Holiday Inn Allentown, 7736 Adrienne Drive. The professor is from the Department of Theology/Religious Studies at the University of Scranton. Registration is required by Aug. 14 by contacting 610-871-0562 or rsvp@lehighdialogue.org.

Many members of the Lehigh Dialogue Center see the month of Ramadan as a time to be generous and give back to the community.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam.
Fasting has always been a part of many major religions. Moses fasted for 40 days and nights before he was given the law, and Jesus fasted for 40 days before he was called to be a prophet.
All physically mature and healthy Muslims are required to decline all food, drink, gum chewing, tobacco use and any kind of sexual contact between sunrise and sunset. Fasting also includes speaking only kind words and doing generous deeds, while refraining from gossiping and lying.
It calls for self-reflection, praying and being very conscious of God’s presence. Fasting inspires humankind to realize the blessings given by God and to show appreciation for these gifts.
Source: Information provided by Lehigh Dialogue Center

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