There's a special treat today as I hand the reins over to Interfaith Activist and writer Saadia Faruqi. Here she explains the joy of sharing Ramadan with others and shares with us an event close to her heart. I'm also very happy to announce that this will be the first in a series of weekly guest posts by Saadia this month.
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It’s that time of the year again! A time to discover your own spiritual side, a time to give up worldly pleasures for the sake of God’s nearness: aah Ramadan! More than any other time in the Islamic calendar this is usually a period for intense reflection and worship, a time when we as Muslims revel in our Muslim-ness.
Here in the United States and probably in all western nations, many of us feel a sense of being special when we are fasting because we stand out for our observance of tradition and ritual in a world moving away from such things. Ten years ago Muslims in these countries fasted in anonymity, but today the awareness of Ramadan is so prevalent in the media that most people outside of our faith know that we are fasting. And for some Muslims, that can make for uncomfortable conversations.
For me, those conversations are the start of something beautiful. Rather than run from the differentiation, I embrace it. Perhaps because I've been fasting since I was a teenager, or maybe because in my role as interfaith liaison for my mosque I've had plenty of practice talking to others about my beliefs.
Whatever the reasons, Ramadan signals to me the opportunity to share my fasting experience with those who don’t fast as a norm but can still relate. In one phrase: interfaith dialogue.
Ramadan of course comes with its own infinite blessings. The promise of forgiveness, of God’s special help and love. Grateful for the fact that as a consultant I can decide my own hours, this year like every year I have taken a vacation from my clients, but not from my mosque. I thought summer would be slow, but apparently there is a scarcity of Muslims wanting to talk about Islam during Ramadan so I’m receiving calls at a steady rate.
I understand the need for many Muslims to focus on fasting, the worry of feeling hunger and thirst when speaking for ninety minutes at a time, but for me at least, removing stereotypes, helping build tolerance across cultures and religions is the best kind of worship. That I get to do it while fasting is an added bonus: difficult but definitely worth it.
So in-between reminiscing about old times and Ramadans past with my family visiting from Pakistan, I’m also busy writing what seems like my tenth article in as many days. While helping my son prepare his speech for the annual youth speech contest at our mosque, I’m crafting my own speech due at a church Sunday service next week. While making plans for Eid, I’m simultaneously preparing for a weekly Women’s Interfaith Iftaar at my mosque in my mind.
A similar interfaith Iftar dinner in Rockford (source)
That last activity is perhaps my most beloved of interfaith activities, one that I look forward to all year. Being responsible for organizing and attending interfaith events year-round, the fact that this is not only my favorite, but that of my guests too, says a lot about what goes on at these Interfaith Iftaars.
I began the tradition three years ago at my mosque, which already offers dinner as part of the prayer and Tarawih program. I decided that since we were getting together every night to break our fast as a community and then share our only meal of the day together, why not invite some friends as well? Weekday Iftaars are small affairs, and thanks to my work at the mosque I had a solid contact list built up. Most importantly, Ramadan is a topic of great curiosity, and I love being able to satisfy that curiosity.
And so the annual event of weekly Interfaith Iftaars for women was born that continues into its third year in 2013. Every Wednesday in Ramadan we open the mosque an hour and a half before Iftaar, and have a group discussion about different topics, related not only to fasting but to anything on our collective mind that day. The group is small, sometimes five women show up, sometimes double that number. I have a team of women in my mosque who help me in my interfaith activities, and they join us as well. That’s a good size for open discussion, sharing of faith traditions and learning from each other.
We not only talk about Ramadan but fasting traditions of other religions as well, be they fasts from food or anything else. Sometimes the conversation shifts to current events, at other times people ask specific questions about Islam which typically start with “I've heard that…” or “Is it true that…” At Iftaar time we break our fast, those wanting to pray take leave to go to the mosque, and food is served.
The two most rewarding aspects of these Iftaars are that (1) guests attend more than just one week, and most bring friends with them, and (2) they don’t want to leave until we start vacuuming the floors from under their feet and tell them the mosque is now closed. Interfaith Iftaars are a wonderful and non-threatening way to explain the concept of fasting to those who may be curious but just don’t get it. It can also be a way to understand “the other” a little bit better.
The best way to talk about Islam is to ask about another person’s faith, and then look for similarities in our own. And more than speeches, presentations, book displays, videos or anything else, Interfaith Iftaars are an ideal way to do just that. Join me this Ramadan as I post a weekly report of my Interfaith Iftaars on this blog.
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Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, speaker and writer specializing in American Muslim issues. She blogs at Tikkun Daily and is editor of the Interfaith Houston blog. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
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So, over to you!
Are you involved in interfaith initiatives in your area?
Have you attended interfaith events in the past?