Imane Naji Amrani is in total party planner mode. She wears a pink dress and matching pink headscarf. Focused and firm, she tells a group of teenage helpers where food should go and hurries to get everything done before sunset.
Every night for the month of Ramadan, families at the mosque in Manchester take turns cooking for the Iftar, the evening meal where Muslims break their fast each night during Ramadan. Tonight is Naji Amrani’s night to cook.
The New Hampshire Islamic Society is currently housed in a second floor space of a mini-mall in Manchester. The glass doors open onto the men’s side. A wooden partition cuts the room in half, with women praying on the other side. Blue carpets line the front of the room for prayer with tables for food at the back.
Naji Amrani is originally from Morocco, but she has been a part of this mosque since 2004.
“I’ve been here for a while so everybody knows me. The kids know me very well here,” she says.
She’s got plenty of kids helping out, including her daughter, who is especially excited about the samosas. While Naji Amrani cooked several traditional Moroccan dishes, she also brought Indian and Pakistani specialties, as well as chicken nuggets, spaghetti and meatballs.
“I have a lot of friends from different countries and I want to make sure that everybody’s happy. It’s a mosaic of flavors and languages and cultures and that’s what makes it so special here,” she says.
Several women say that most of the people at this mosque are Pakistani or Indian. But there are also people from Sudan, Indonesia and Egypt, with a range of cuisines represented at events like these.
As more people trickle in, Naji Amrani lays out bowls of dates and cups of water. Helpers deliver trays of food to the men’s side.
Then comes the call to prayer just after sunset. The Maghrib prayer is the fourth of the five daily prayers for Muslims. The women break their fast with dates and water, then take off their shoes and pray in rows on the carpets. Small children play and chatter at the back. After fasting since sunrise, everyone can dig in.
A row of women lift lids to reveal a feast of Moroccan kebab and tagine, a beef dish with prunes, Indian chicken biryani, and Somali spiced tea with milk. After going through the line, people sit down on the floor to eat and chat about what they prepared on their nights.
One woman, Suvada Arnautovic has been a part of this mosque for about ten years.
“My husband is Moroccan and I’m Bosnian so we did Bosnian, Moroccan, American, Pakistani,” Arnatovic says. Although the community is diverse, food is the biggest difference she finds between people here.
“Islam wise, everything is the same. We fast the same, you know, I don’t see many differences. Just the food,” she says.
People start to finish their food. They clean up and head out. But Naji Amrani is just sitting down with her food.
“I just need to eat now, I’m sorry. I finally get to meet my plate,” she says.
After a long night of nervous energy, of making sure everybody is happy, Naji Amrani can finally sit down and enjoy her Iftar dinner.