For those who are unfamiliar, suhoor takes place in the hours before fajr, or morning prayer. Since Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, the timing of Fajr depends on where one is located and the day of the year, adjusting by a few minutes each day. Likewise, the sunset prayer, maghrib, signifies the end of iftar or the meal that officially breaks fast. During daylight hours, the devout abstain from consuming any food or drink, including water. What people eat between sunset and sunrise varies tremendously. Some break fast with elaborate feasts. Most, however, try to strategize to find the most efficient way to store the energy needed to sustain oneself all day, especially when Ramadan falls during the long, hot summer as it does this year.
While it’s not exactly clear when IHOP became a fixture for Americans observing suhoor, what is certain is that it exemplifies how both Muslim and American cultures continue to influence one another and create something unique to the United States. Islam's impact in the Americas dates back centuries with the Moors, who ruled Spain for nearly 800 years and heavily influenced the Spanish language, which was thus carried over to Mexico. The first Muslims appeared in the United States in Virginia in the 17th century and in 1805, President Thomas Jefferson hosted an iftar dinner at the White House. More widespread migration to the US by Muslims from countries like Yemen and Lebanon began in the mid-1800s until World War I. Many settled in Dearborn, Michigan, and at the start of the 20th century, many were drawn to work in Detroit's automotive factories. Waves of Muslim immigrants from more than 20 nations have also concentrated in various regions of the United States, especially Houston; DC; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Philadelphia; New York; and San Francisco.
In that respect, suhoor at IHOP, the Los Angeles-based breakfast chain that also sells burgers, is an example of two cultures seamlessly colliding.
With more than 1,600 locations, mostly in North America, nearly all stores are run by independent franchisees, making it difficult for the restaurant’s parent company, Dine Brands Global, to quantify just how prevalent IHOP visits are during Ramadan. Stephanie Peterson, an IHOP spokeswoman, did say that in its 60 years in operation, the chain has prided itself in being supportive of families of all backgrounds.“When you have holidays like this, just seems to fit so well with the kind of comfort of the brand and the fact that we do have that welcoming quality,” she says.
For Jalali, having grown up in the Houston area most of her life, IHOP makes more sense for a pre-dawn meal than what she consider to be more traditional food. “Think it's just that we're Muslim-American, I was born here, my kids were born here, this is standard fare for us. IHOP is the tradition,” says the mother of four who works as a marriage and family therapist.
Besides, where else can she get her fill of protein-heavy foods like eggs and turkey bacon, alongside her favorite -- chocolate chip pancakes -- needed to sustain for the upwards of 18 hours of fasting that follow come sunrise?