A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Little Mosque on the Prairie: Ramadan foods and the invention of tradition

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 13, 2007

What has stayed with me from the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie is a small exchange between two women: Sarah, a Canadian who converted to marry the Palestinian-Canadian Yassir, and Fatima, a Nigerian-Canadian.

Sarah wants to serve cucumber sandwiches for iftar because they are light, and hence easy for an empty stomach to accept.

Fatima wants to serve goat curry because it is “traditional”, and “traditional is always best”.

In the end, both dishes are served at the community iftar. This isn’t what interests me – its Fatima’s notion of tradition.

I can see two possible definitions – neither of which supports her promotion of goat curry to the exclusion of cucumber sandwiches (or any other dish).

First, that tradition is better because it encourages believers to emulate the Prophet, the rajul al-kamil (the perfect man). However, the Prophet ate dates to break the fast – not goat curry. If she intends this “strict constructionist” idea of tradition, Fatima should discourage all foods not commonly eaten in the Persian Gulf in the 600s.

Second, that the traditions of older Muslim communities are better than the customs of Muslim converts. This to me goes against the entire basis of Islam, which welcomes all comers as spiritual equals. When Fatima’s ancestors converted to Islam, they brought cultural, social, and food traditions with them – and the community of believers was the richer for it. She ought in turn to welcome Sarah’s traditions – not denigrate them.

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