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The month of Ramadan, which began Sunday night, marks around 30 days of fasting, fellowship and mindfulness for observant Muslims.
During this month, meals are only taken after sunset and before sunrise. And in the summertime, when sunset can be well after 8 p.m., Muslims have fewer restaurant options to break fast or catch a pre-dawn meal.
While these limitations have allowed a unique culture to spring up in 24-hour restaurants like IHOP, one Washingtonian felt like these challenges also presented a business opportunity.
Enter Dine After Dark, an initiative encouraging local restaurants to extend their hours to accommodate fasting Muslims.
We learn about the program, and hear from Washington-area Muslims about how restaurants can be more inclusive during the holy month.
Produced by Ruth Tam
Where To Find Halal Meat Locally
- Restaurant Depot (Alexandria, Va.; Capitol Heights, Md.; Chantilly, Va.; Baltimore, Md.; Richmond, Va.)
- Washington Lamb (Lorton, Va.)
Local Grocery Stores
- Costco (Washington, D.C.; Arlington, Va.; Wheaton, Md.; Beltsville, Va.; Chantilly, Va.; etc.)
- Giant (Washington, D.C.; Bethesda, Md.; Silver Spring, Md.; Arlington, Va.; Hyattsville, Md.; etc.)
- Walmart (Washington, D.C.; Landover Hills, Md.; Vienna, Va.; Alexandria, Va.; etc.)
- Wegmans (Lanham, Md.; Alexandria, Va.; Fairfax. Va.; Germantown, Md.; Chantilly, Va.; Columbia, Md.; etc.)
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest attracts thousands of entries each year. And this year we're highlighting three local bands competing to play at NPR and gain a national platform. Today we hear from the D.C. indie soul band called Oh He Dead.
KOJO NNAMDIBut first, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began Sunday night marks 30 days of fasting, fellowship and mindfulness for observant Muslims. During this time food and drink are only consumed before sunrise and after sunset. While these limitations have allowed a unique culture to crop up around 24 hour restaurants like IHOP, One Washingtonian thought these limitations also presented a unique business opportunity.
KOJO NNAMDIJoining us now is Katherine Ashworth Brandt, who founded Dine After Dark, an initiative to encourage restaurants to extend their hours during Ramadan and attract Muslim diners. Thank you so much for joining us.
KATHERINE ASHWORTH BRANDTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIHow does Dine After Dark work? What are you asking restaurants to do?
BRANDTSo we're asking restaurants to extend their operating hours during Ramadan to better serve Muslim consumers, who are fasting from dawn to dusk. Basically we're asking people to open at least two hours before sunrise or keep their kitchens open at least two hours past dusk to give people that opportunity to go break their fast or eat their morning meal and be able to dine out and have those options available to them.
NNAMDIWhich restaurants are participating so far and how are they extending their service?
BRANDTSo this is our first season and we have participating at Martha's Table, Busboys and Poets, and City Winery D.C. And actually Busboys and Poets and City Winery are already open these late night hours and so they're participating as just a way to show people that, you know, these options are available to them. And then Martha's Table who is a local charity here in D.C. is sponsoring what we're calling our Iftar Car. And so we're serving 50 free meals every night out of our Iftar Car different locations throughout the city at dusk.
NNAMDIYou're hoping that more restaurants will join Dine After Dark after seeing how this year goes. What would success look like to you?
BRANDTWell, I think for this first season, I think success really is about starting this conversation in that this is a business opportunity and an underserved consumer market that people should be paying more attention to. So for this first season, you know, I think having the businesses that are participating feel like this was a worthwhile cause and also having the consumers, you know, say that they appreciated this. This worked for them, but long term I think the success would be, you know, make this a common business practice everywhere. I would like to see everybody doing this.
NNAMDIListeners might be surprised to hear that you are not Muslim and you do not fast during Ramadan. So why is access to restaurants during Ramadan so important to you?
BRANDTWell, you know, I think being considerate of other people's traditions should be important to everybody. I'm not Muslim myself, but I actually grew up celebrating Christmas and the Christian holidays. And I feel like during my holiday season I think I have pretty much any consumer accommodation I can think of. You know, there's free delivery on everything. There's free layaway. Everything's on sale.
BRANDTAnd I, you know, as a consumer I really appreciate having those options and I think that everyone should have those kinds of options available to them during their holiday season. And I think Muslims especially are really underserved in this country. And so this is my way to try and pay that privilege of my forward. That, you know, I have all these accommodations and I would like everyone to have them to too.
NNAMDIWas there a particular event that triggered your interest in creating Dine After Dark?
BRANDTThere was. It was actually just about two years ago this month I came across an article about a high school in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Tech High School, that had scheduled its prom during Ramadan. And about 240 students had petitioned the school to move the date. And the school said no. And their reasoning was that -- and I think I'm quoting from the article that "Prom had been planned long in advance," like as if Ramadan hadn't been planned long in advance.
BRANDTAnd it was just so shocking to me and so upsetting and I was really just offended by it frankly. You know, I can't think of any high schools in this country that would schedule prom during a major Christian or Jewish holiday and it just seemed really deeply unfair. And so I couldn't figure out a way to save prom for those kids. But Dine After Dark is really like the brain child of that moment.
NNAMDIDid you partner with any local Muslim organizations?
BRANDTWe have been working really closely with several organizations. The Amadia Chapter here in D.C. has been really really supportive of us. Actually, the mayor's office has also been super supportive in their community outreach services and their Religious Affairs Office. The Ivy City Masjid where we're hosting our weekly Iftar Car has been incredibly supportive too. We're really getting a great reception from pretty much everyone. I think this idea is really resonating with a lot of people and people are really excited about it.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Hurunnessa Fariad. She is the Outreach Interfaith Coordinator at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center. Also known as the ADAMS, A-D-A-M-S, Center. Hurunnessa, good to see you again.
HURUNNESSA FARIADHi, Kojo. Good to be back.
NNAMDIDo you think Ramadan is treated like the major holidays of other faiths?
FARIADNot in the United States. I think the attraction is there and people are learning about it. But it's definitely not where it needs to be or should be to accommodate the 3.25 million Muslims that are in the United States.
NNAMDISo as a practicing Muslim who's fasting for Ramadan, what does Dine After Dark say to you?
FARIADWhen I heard about it, I was so impressed and I was actually really touched that Katherine took on this initiative and really is a spokesman for us as the Muslim community here in the United States. And taking this on when she really didn't have to. She's not getting any benefit from it. She's doing this because as a human being she feels that she has the opportunity to serve a group that is not really well known in this country. And she can talk on our behalf and provide us services to accommodate us in a month where things can get a little difficult in terms of work and school and fasting at the same time. So thank you Katherine.
BRANDTOh, my pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIOn to the telephone. Here is Mohammed in Washington D.C. Mohammed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOHAMMEDHi, Kojo. Hi, everybody. Happy Ramadan to everybody. Katherine was at our Masjid yesterday. I am the director of Ivy City Masjid in northeast Washington D.C.
MOHAMMEDI'd like to thank her and thank her organization for providing their table last night. Ramadan is not treated as a holiday as other religions in the United States. We really have kids in schools that cannot take off for their holidays. They're fasting. They're in school. Some holidays like at the end of Ramadan, they're not allowed to be off or out of school for that. I think we should pay more attention.
MOHAMMEDAs far as D.C. government is concerned they have been great. Fifth District Police has been excellent. As a matter of fact some of them has visited our Masjid and congratulated us for Ramadan. I just think that a little bit more attention in the United States for the Muslim faith would be greatly appreciated just like Kathy has done. And we appreciate -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
NNAMDII was about to say and I appreciate your call and I appreciate you raising this issue about awareness about Ramadan, because, Hurunnessa, when it comes to raising awareness about Ramadan are there common mistakes, common insensitivities at school as Mohammed was mentioning or in the work place that you would like to see addressed?
FARIADAbsolutely. Last month we did about three training in high schools in Loudoun County where I went and I spoke to staff and teachers about what Ramadan means and just a general overview of what Islam is as a whole. And we talked about issues that children might have in their classrooms. What does it mean for them to be fasting to accommodate those students while they're fasting and not give them exams on those days, don't schedule graduation, because right now Ramadan is at the end of the school year for a while for maybe another year or so. And then it will move to the earlier part of the year, but the time being to be aware of when Ramadan is coming every year and to schedule things around that month.
FARIADFairfax County has actually been doing well last year and this year where they moved SOLs around to accommodate the students. There is traction, but there's a lot more work to be done in terms of educating the school systems in what Ramadan is and how they can accommodate the students who, you know, even if they want to go and pray for them to have a place where they can go and pray for five minutes.
FARIADWhere they end lunch time -- you know, not forcing them to sit in the cafeteria and watch other kids eat. Some schools are accommodating them and letting them go into the library and having them sit there during lunch break so that they're not put in a position where they're feeling bad and not being taken seriously in terms of how they're practicing their faith.
NNAMDIKatherine as someone coming to this holiday from a non-Muslim perspective, what blind spots did you have about Ramadan as you began planning Dine After Dark?
BRANDTWell, actually there was a lot. There was a learning curve for me. And, you know, I'm actually a little bit embarrassed it took me so long to come up with the idea for Dine After Dark. I've had, you know, really close Muslim friends my whole life. And I didn't really realize how inconvenient this holiday season could be for them as consumers. But, yeah, there's definitely been, you know, things I've had to learn. And I still struggle with the pronunciation on somethings. But I think, you know, I think this idea is really relatable to people of all faiths. I don't think that this is really even so much about religion itself. It's really about a consumer opportunity and for businesses to be able to serve their customers better.
NNAMDIOn to Mohib in Rockville, Maryland. Mohib, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOHIBYes. Ramadan came to all. And compliments to Katherine for Food After Dark. I just had one question. One of the -- I guess the restaurants is some winery and that as you know alcohol and Islam are not compatible. So maybe some other venues would probably be more appropriate. Even though they might be serving other food, but that the winery is a little bit not appreciated. But, again, I wanted to compliment you for the efforts and especially after a whole day of fasting having a place where you can go and eat is definitely a big asset.
NNAMDIAnd the place maybe named winery, but it also serves food.
NNAMDIHurunnessa, are there restaurants who already extend their hours during Ramadan?
FARIADWell, a lot of the Muslim restaurants around D.C. and Virginia and Maryland do extend their hours, because they know they are catering to the Muslim community who want to come and break their Iftar at their restaurant and don't really want to hang out much longer than that. Eat their dinner and then leave and go pray at the mosque. So there are restaurants. And then other restaurants are normally open to later.
FARIADBut I think it's important for them to get on to Katherine's list so that people have a place to go on the internet. And see like, "Okay, all these restaurants are accommodating us. They understand who we are." And there's a level of understanding that comes along with that to know that they're aware of what Ramadan means and how that's serving -- them being on that list is serving the Muslim community.
NNAMDIYou live out in Virginia and serve a largely suburban community. Can observing Ramadan out in the suburbs differs from observing it in the city?
FARIADI think it depends on the family structure. If they're single and living on their own, I think getting up and going for Suhūr at a restaurant that's open up in the middle of the night is easier. But if they have family and kids it's kind of hard to like leave your kids at home and go and eat at IHOP. They might have to take turns between the husband and the wife, which is fine. But I think in D.C. it's easier to do both for families. In the suburbs, I think it's easier for college students and people who are single or newly married or don't have small kids to tend for.
FARIADThe families and people who are, you know, part of a larger community, I think staying open later in the evening serves them better, because that's a time when Muslims want to go out and have families. And a lot of Muslim families have Iftars where they will book a restaurant and invite family and friends, 100, 200 people.
FARIADNow it's a point where your weekends are actually booked two months in advance with your friends having Iftar parties on the weekend. That now people are having Iftar parties during the week, so your calendar kind of fills up. So everyone knows that there's somewhere to go. And those restaurants are really aware that this is a business opportunity. That even though they're not Muslim owned and they're not run by Muslims they know that it's a market that they are tapping into. And, you know, they're serving halal meat at their restaurant. They know that the Muslims will come.
NNAMDIKatherine, in the coming years you'd like restaurants to pay a membership fee to be part of Dine After Dark, the collective. How high would the fee be and what's it paying for?
BRANDTSo the fee would be $500 a year. But that's only for any business's second year. Every businesses that signs up gets a complimentary year free to see that it would work for their business. And that $500 goes entirely back into Dine After Dark and promoting our message and getting customers in those doors.
NNAMDIWhat can restaurants in particular do to be more inclusive of Muslims diners even after Ramadan ends?
BRANDTSo one of the things that our community has been talking about is this concept of providing halal meat at restaurants and a lot of restaurants actually don't know that they're serving halal meat and they're actually missing out in catering to that community and bringing that business in through their doors. So if you look at Elevation Burger it didn't realize that it was actually serving halal meat that was coming in from New Zealand and it decided to -- it was selling it. And when people found out Muslims were flocking to Elevation Burger.
NNAMDIWhat does halal mean?
BRANDTSo halal means that it's -- so if you look at it from a technical definition it means permissible. But when it comes to meat, we're going to use it as a meat that is sacrificed a certain way that is acceptable in the Muslim tradition. So when a provider that is saying that, I'm providing halal meat, they have to get a certification from a certain organization that they are providing halal meat and that they're doing it in that way so that it's providing what Muslims want their meat to be cut in that way.
BRANDTSo when these restaurants are saying, you know, that -- for instance, Elevation Burger didn't realize that they were serving this. And when they did now they have stickers on their door saying that it's halal, because they realized it's a market. And they didn't know it until someone came in and said, well, you're serving halal meat. Muslims are going to come. And they did.
NNAMDIHurunnessa Fariad is the Outreach Interfaith Coordinator at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center. Thank you so much for joining us.
FARIADThank you so much. Nice to see you again.
NNAMDIKatherine Ashworth Brandt is the President and Founder of Dine After Dark. Thank you for joining us.
BRANDTMy pleasure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIComing up next, NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest attracts thousands of entries each year. This week we're highlighting three local bands. Today you'll be hearing from the D.C. indie soul band called "Oh He Dead." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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