Spaniards call it sobremesa, the person-to-person dessert that follows a meal when folks stay at the table and enjoy one another’s company.
In Danish, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) is such a concept. Although there are many ways to describe hygge, in general it’s the ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, like friendship.
Lutherans are known for their potluck suppers. Everyone brings a “hot dish” and a spirit of fellowship.
The Muslim variation on this universal theme of coming together around broken bread is called iftar. During Ramadan, each day’s fasting culminates at sunset with an iftar dinner.
In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson hosted a Tunisian emissary at what’s regarded as the first American Iftar Dinner. During the 1990s, President Clinton began hosting one annually, a White House practice that continued through the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama.
And that’s where Fez Zafar comes into the picture.
Fez is a sophomore at Roosevelt High School who’s bent on making the world a better place.
He established a nonprofit called Site for Smiles and Smarts that fundraises to help poor kids around the world, from Iowa to Pakistan to Uganda to Guatemala, with everything from school supplies to cleft palate and corneal transplant surgeries.
His short film, Road to Unity, was selected for a student film festival at the White House in 2016.
When he found out about the lapse of the American Iftar Dinner last fall, he sprang into action – again. Cutting to the chase, there will be one this year, at the World Food Prize in downtown Des Moines, on June 7. Between now and then, a “movement” is being marshaled by Fez and a team of local high school students he recruited to make it all happen.
“Right now we have 10 colleges and universities in six states signed on to help us,” Fez said after school Tuesday afternoon in the library at Roosevelt. “We expect to be national by next month.”
If not sooner.
The inspiration may be Muslim, but the movement and the culminating event are purposely nonsectarian. That’s the point of the whole thing. Right away, Fez enlisted the help and the blessing of leaders from the faith community including Bishop Richard Pates of the Catholic Diocese, Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’Nai Jeshurun and Pastor Mike Householder of Lutheran Hope Church. They’re all in.
The grand event on June 7 will be by invitation. RSVPs are already coming in from dignitaries and community leaders who’ve committed to speak. But the idea is for people all across the country to hold their own iftar dinners, “A meal for harmony and humanity,” as Fez puts it. Sounds delicious, but hard to prepare.
“As an American Muslim, I came up with the idea of reviving and re-creating the Iftar Dinner, not just as a celebration of Muslims, but…of all the world’s religions, ethnicities, and cultures, with the mission of showing the world that we are a nation of tolerance and diversity,” Fez says. “The movement will encourage Americans across the nation to invite a diverse group of guests to the dinner table. With each guest, we can move one step closer to achieving unity in our country.”
It’s worth noting that, in the spirit of the movement/event, the team that Fez assembled to coordinate crisscrosses genders, races, faiths, schools, you name it. He’s got leaders of student groups across the political spectrum working together. This is one meal that too many cooks can’t spoil.
Here’s the roster of “national student coordinators”:
- Isabella O’Connor (Roosevelt)
- Anna Van Heukelom (Roosevelt)
- Leigh Carlson (Roosevelt)
- Jerry Jones (East)
- Alejandro Zarate (East)
- Robert Nishimwe (North)
- JJ Kapur (Valley)
- Amy Johnson (Valley)
- Omar Mustafa (Valley)
- Aarushi Dervesh (Valley)
So that’s what this 16 year-old Des Moines native and his pals are up to. Stay tuned for further developments, both here and via these social media links: