Engin Sezen is going to be one busy man for the next month. His evenings will fill up with one indulgent dinner after another as Ramadan begins.
“I won’t really be at home a lot,” he says with a laugh.
That’s because Sezen helps organize dinners where local Muslims host non-Muslims at their homes to share a meal during the holiest month of the year in Islam.
Sezen makes the matches for the grassroots initiative, called “meet your neighbours.” So far he has more than 50 Muslim families ready to host dinners.
“The outcome is awesome. You meet new people and make lasting friendships. There are great stories to hear,” he says.
He has organized the dinners every Ramadan for the past five years. Last year he matched 80 families.
During Ramadan, which began Friday evening, observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. It is also a month of reflection, prayer and charity.
Muslim families will cook up special treats and delicacies to break the daylong fast each night for the next 30 days.
The families that volunteer to host guests for “meet your neighbours” are mostly of Turkish origin, like Sezen, so a steaming cup of traditional Turkish coffee usually ends the night.
“These are people who do not know each other. It’s a great intercultural exchange,” he says.
“It’s not about promoting the religion but promoting the cultures and bringing the community together.”
Sezen runs the local chapter of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute. It’s a national nonprofit that promotes peace and intercultural dialogue.
It also hosts free community dinners three nights a week during Ramadan.
Each night offers a different menu cooked up by volunteers, some of whom have a few authentic Turkish recipes tucked away.
Different families or groups of people will offer to pick up the tab each night for a meal that feeds an average of 100 people, Sezen says.
The food is what he calls “Canadianized” Turkish cuisine.
There is rice served with lightly spiced meats, soup, salad and a vegetarian dish of some sort like eggplant, a Turkish favourite. There is also almost always baklava for desert, a sweet pastry topped with nuts and honey or syrup.
Although observant Muslims spend all day abstaining from food or drink, it’s the food that brings families and friends together at the end of each day of fasting.
Sezen fondly remembers Ramadan in Turkey when the whole neighbourhood would come alive. Neighbours broke their fasts together. Relatives cooked special treats. You could hear the call to prayer five times a day.
“You truly felt like it was Ramadan,” he recalls.
Even though Ramadan in Canada may not be like it was in Turkey, Sezen says it’s special in its own way because of the time spent with family, friends and neighbours.
“We are developing a good kind of Ramadan,” he said. “It’s a Canadian Ramadan.”
Muslims will celebrate the end of the holy month with a celebration called Eid-al-Fitr.
Community dinners will be held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Anatolin Cultural Centre, 312 Lawrence Ave., Kitchener. They begin at 8:30 p.m. and anyone is invited to attend.
For those interested in getting matched with a Muslim family for a dinner this Ramadan, contact Engin Sezen at firstname.lastname@example.org.