Iftar is the meal which is eaten after sunset during Sawm, the fasting which occurs during the month of Ramadan in Muslim tradition. Since people have not eaten at all during the day, they are often quite hungry by the time Iftar comes around, and most people hasten to end the fast as quickly as possible after sunset. In communities with a large Muslim population, a cannon may be fired or other signal given to indicate the end of the day's fast, and the information may be broadcast over the media as well.
By tradition, all able-bodied Muslims who are not traveling participate in Sawm, although children who have not yet experienced puberty are not required to fast. In addition to abstaining from food, devout Muslims refrain from a number of activities, most notably sexual relations. The Sawm fast during Ramadam is intended to teach self restraint, which is viewed as a virtue by many Muslims.
A day of Sawm begins with Suhur, the meal which is eaten just before daybreak. Because it will be the last meal for many hours, Suhur is often a very dense, rich meal with a number of offerings on the table, including offerings high in protein so that people will feel less hungry during the day. At very least, people are encouraged to eat a date and drink some water to make fasting through the day easier.
Iftar usually starts with consuming a date and drinking water, a tradition which goes back to the earliest days of Islam. Once this traditional fast-breaking is complete, people can eat any number of foods, with many regions having their own traditional Iftar foods, including a wide assortment of dessert treats. It is common for people to eat Iftar in large groups, making the fast breaking into a community party, and Muslims often try to include charity in their Iftar meal as well, feeding needy members of the community while they celebrate the end of the day's fast.
After Iftar, Muslim communities often come alive with socializing. People may simply promenade around the neighborhood to chat with friends, or they may go to market, attend performances, and meet up with friends at coffeehouses and other locations for socializing. Most people greet each other with “salaam aleikum,” which means “peace be upon you,” and the traditional response is “wa aleikum salaam,” “peace be with you also.”