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Engaging in Something Marvelous: a Non-Muslim Learns from His Ramadan Fast

Kevin Childress

By Kevin Childress

There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.

As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.

When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.

Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.

When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.

Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.

My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.

My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.

As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.

For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.

Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.

About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC.  While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance.  He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media.  A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.

Eid ul-Fitr 2012 Muslims Celebrate Around The World

Children pose at Obalende praying ground in Lagos on August 19, 2012 as muslims pray on the first day of Eid al-Fitr. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim calendar’s ninth and holiest month during which followers are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

from the Huffington Post

To mark the beginning of Eid and in accordance with the Sunnah, or practices of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslims wake up early in the morning and pray Salat ul-Fajr, or the pre-dawn prayer. After brushing their teeth, taking a bath and wearing perfume, they have breakfast before heading off to perform special congregational prayers known as Salaat al-Eid. Many Muslims recite the takbir, a declaration of faith, on the way to the prayer ground and give special charitable contributions known as Zakat al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr is a day of great merriment and thanksgiving. Muslims celebrate by gathering with friends and family, preparing sweet delicacies, wearing new clothes, giving each other gifts and putting up lights and other decorations in their homes. A common greeting during this holiday is Eid Mubarak, which means, “Have a blessed Eid!”

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August 22nd, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Religious Communities Rally to Support Missouri Muslims After Mosque Arson

 

Imam Lahmuddin holds his hands over his face after a devastating fire destroyed the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque Monday morning, Aug. 6, 2012.
Photo from Joplin Globe/T. Rob Brown

by Roger McKinney
from Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some local Christians and others who attended an event Saturday at the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque said they are saddened and dismayed about the fire that destroyed the mosque Monday morning.

The Rev. Frank Sierra, of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, called Saturday’s gathering “a great event.”

“Instead of labeling people, we get to see them as fellow human beings — children of God — and that breaks down a lot of walls,” he said.

All were unanimous about their support for members of the Muslim community in their time of hardship and their outrage over the burning of the mosque.

“This is a threat to a group of law-abiding citizens in our midst,” said Paul Teverow, with the United Hebrew Congregation, who was at Saturday’s gathering and was at the mosque to offer condolences Monday morning. “The people of Joplin should share the same sense of outrage.”

He said such incidents are something much deeper when a place of worship is destroyed.

“I just feel a lot sadder,” he said.

He said ties between the mosque and synagogue go back many years, and that the connection would continue.

“This strikes very close to us,” he said. “They’re our extended family.”

Jill Michel, pastor of South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), echoed the sentiment.

“They’re our brothers and sisters,” she said. “These are caring and compassionate people who are making a difference in our community. Their grief must be ours. It just has to be. That’s what our faith tells us.”

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Embracing a Greener Ramadan

Photography Credit to Google Images.by Ryan Strom
from Common Ground News Service

The holiest month of the Islamic year, Ramadan, began last Friday, 20 July.  This Ramadan, many Muslims are looking at a new dimension of the month: our impact on the earth.  This is particularly important as we learn more about the effects of climate change, dwindling resources and, most importantly, decreasing access to fresh water around the world, which is a growing concern in many Muslim communities and countries.

Muslims believe that God has asked them to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.  In addition to fasting, Muslims around the world aspire to attain spiritual contentment and come closer to God through increased prayer, meditation, helping others and self-reflection.  While fasting is the most well known aspect of the month, it is also a time to be more aware of the universal principles of mercy, compassion and respect for the Earth that our faith teaches.

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August 1st, 2012 at 10:55 am

Tennessee Mosque Wins Petition To Open

Photo Credit Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

The mosque being built in Murfreesboro, Tennesse in June.

by The Associated Press
from National Public Radio

A federal judge ordered a Tennessee county on Wednesday to move ahead with opening a Muslim congregation’s newly built mosque after a two-year fight from opponents.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro sued Rutherford County earlier in the day and asked District Judge Todd Campbell for an emergency order to let worshippers into the building before the holy month of Ramadan starts at sundown Thursday.

Federal prosecutors then stepped in with a similar lawsuit.

The future of the mosque had been in question since May, when a local judge overturned the county’s approval of the mosque construction. This month he ordered the county not to issue an occupancy permit for the 12,000-square-foot building.

Campbell ordered the county to move ahead on approving the mosque for use, although it wasn’t immediately clear if that could happen by Thursday. Final inspection of the building is required.

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July 22nd, 2012 at 10:55 am

Nine FAQs About Ramadan

Photo Credit to Alamy

Peckham Mosque women praying Ramadan prayers.

from The Huffington Post

What is the history of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Arabian calendar. The term Ramadan literally means scorching in Arabic. It was established as a Holy Month for Muslims after the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE on the occasion known as Laylat al-Qadr, frequently translated as “the Night of Power.

What is the ‘goal’ of Ramadan?

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

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Ramadan, a Sacred Time for Reflection, Sacrifice to Muslims and Appreciation as non-Muslims

Photo Credit to Mohammed Ballas- APby Christopher L. Heuertz
from The Washington Post

This week remember to wish all your Muslim friends “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” (“Blessed/Happy Ramadan”) as the annual fast of Islam begins the evening of Thursday, July 19th and goes until the evening of Aug. 18 (holiday may start July 20 and end Aug. 19 depending on when Muslims spot the new moon in different parts of the world).

Ramadan commemorates the month when the sacred scriptures of Islam, the Koran, was given to the prophet Muhammad. In Islam, it is a period of purification, a time if fasting. The fast is observed throughout daylight, commencing at sunrise and concluding at sunset each day. Not only does the fast include food, but water and other beverages— not even a sip. In many instances, Muslims even fast from most forms of entertainment, creating time to recite their scripture and performing additional prayers throughout the night (tarawih or taraweeh).

It’s not simply a fast from food, but a time of cleansing both the body and the soul. Even small children are included in this sacrament.

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Interfaith Relations Ten Years On

by Kim Lawton
from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Ten years after 9/11, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US remain complicated. In many areas, tensions have been on the rise. There has been sharp controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, and according to pew, proposed mosques in 36 other locations have also encountered community resistance. There’s also been a growing debate over Islamic religious law or shariah. Measures to restrict or ban the use of shariah have been introduced in nearly two dozen states. Yet in other areas the last 10 years have brought a new spirit of dialogue and cooperation.

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Ramadan: A Month-Long Spiritual Gym

by Imam Abdullah Antepli

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This is the month in which the Holy Qur’an started to be revealed to prophet Muhammad. So Ramadan marks the historical birth of Islam as the youngest sibling of the Abrahamic family. Ramadan has been primarily a joyful celebration of this birth in prayerful and devotional ways for the last fourteen hundred years by Muslims of all different backgrounds.

All religions carve out specific periods of time to be more intentional and deliberate about their core teachings and ideals. Ramadan is that special time for believing and practicing Muslims when they try their very best to be more intentional and focused about their relationship with the Divine by taking on various physical and spiritual disciplines and by devoting significant amount of quality time to ponder about the state of that relationship.

Every day during this holy month, practicing adult Muslims of good health around the world spend the daylight hours fasting completely. They abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice.

But Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits — essentially clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but also from evil actions, thoughts, and words. So Ramadan is a month of self-auditing. Muslims are expected to slow down and deeply reflect on their lives. They are called to note all the plusses and minuses, weak and strong areas. They are invited to give intense gratitude and thanks to the Divine and their loved ones for those plusses and ask forgiveness and guidance for the minuses from the same sources.

During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from peering at unlawful possibilities. The hand must not touch or take anything wrong. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to improper places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.

Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a month long spiritual gym where Muslims work hard on their spiritual muscles. Muslims are called to do this year-round, but Ramadan gives them an opportunity to push these ethical and moral ideals into their bones and instill them in the very tissue of their brains. Ramadan helps Muslims develop these internal and spiritual strengths by forcing them to be more intentional every 11 months.

Ramadan is also a month of charity and empathy. Through these physical disciplines that we take on, Muslims try to improve their empathy with those who are less privileged than them and with those for whom hunger and starvation is a way of life. This deeper empathy and understanding is expected to increase our motivation and determination to attend the needs of our fellow human beings.

Eid al-Fitr marks the successful completion of month long struggle and internal purification at the end of Ramadan. Muslims often invite their non-Muslim friends to join them and celebrate their spiritual achievements.

And also, following are the special Islamic Dates during Fall-2011:

Ramadan Starts -First day of fasting August 1st, 2011
Ramadan Ends August 29th, 2011
Eid al-Fitr (Celebration of the end of Ramadan) August 30th, 2011
Hajj (Muslim Pilgrimage) days November 4-9th 2011
Eid al-Adha ( Celebration of the Pilgrimage) November 6th, 2011

 

Ramadan etiquette: A guide to your Muslim neighbor’s holy month

Asma Uddin and Shazia Kamal
from Washington Post OnFaith

In the next few weeks, you may come into work and find your co-worker taking a power nap at 9:30am. At break time, you’ll notice she is missing in the discussion about Harry Potter over at the water cooler. At the staff meeting, you will be shocked when she is offered coffee and cookies and refuses ! By lunch time, your concern about her missing at the water cooler compels you to investigate the situation.

Then you remember what she had mentioned last week over a delicious Sushi lunch. Flooded with relief, you go up to her desk, and proclaim with much gusto, “Ramadan Mubarak (Moo-baa-rak)!” Ramadan’s Blessings to you!

The month of Ramadan is a happy occasion; it is the month that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are called by their religion to celebrate the month by coming together in worship, fasting each day for thirty days from dawn until sunset.

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August 10th, 2011 at 10:10 am