EDITOR'S NOTE: Ramadan's first day of fasting began today at dawn. This year, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has chosen to keep the fast during the Muslim holy month alongside our friend, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Both Lisa and Imam Feisal will be blogging regularly during the coming days and weeks of Ramadan, sharing with our readers their personal reflections on what the holy month, the fast and journeying together as a Christian and a Muslim means to them. To learn more about Ramadan and its sunrise-to-sunset monthlong fast, click HERE.
LISA SHARON HARPER:
In 2004 I led a group of Intervarsity students on a journey through Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia on a Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. For four weeks we traveled throughout all three countries investigating the roots of conflict and seeds of peace being planted between the Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs. Along the way, we met with Miroslav Volf, who was vacationing in his home country of Croatia at the time. One of my students asked Volf the same question I asked my mentor years before: “How do you engage in interfaith activity without watering down your own faith?” Volf answered with one word: “Respect.”
He explained that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love requires respect. We may not agree with our neighbors, but we must respect their minds and their ability to choose the faith they will practice.
In July 2010, controversy erupted nationwide over the location of the Park51 Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan, not far from the 9/11 Ground Zero site. Two years later, our Muslim neighbors are still vulnerable. Last month, an arsonist set a local mosque ablaze in Joplin, MO. These acts of violence are fueled by fear, not love. Fear leads us to crush that which we do not understand. Love leads us to go deeper. Fear leads us to dehumanize the other. Love leads us to embrace the humanity of those who think differently than ourselves and to seek to understand the choices they make.
That is why I have chosen to embrace my Muslim neighbors by practicing the Fast of Ramadan this year with a spiritual leader who I admire and look forward to learning from, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF:
Thank you for your sentiments, Lisa. I’m so pleased to be fasting with you during this holy month of Ramadan. It is truly by walking in each other’s footsteps that we can learn to better love and respect each other’s traditions.
For one month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual activity between dawn and sunset. But this physical fast is only a symbol of the spiritual fast, as mere abstention from food alone has no effect on the spirit: the Prophet has said that many a fasting person gains nothing from his fast but hunger and thirst! During this time we fast from negative thoughts, from backbiting, from pride and anger, while endeavoring to establish good spiritual habits and practices that will carry us through the year. As we fast, we practice leading our bodies as the rider leads the horse, becoming increasingly aware and confident of our primary identities as souls.
That fasting is not about suffering or harming the body is clear from the fact that we are exempt when sick or traveling. As it says in the Qur’ān: “God desires ease for you, not hardship” (2:185). When we fast, we abstain from physical food so as to better partake of spiritual nourishment, including prayers and reading the Qur’ān in its entirety throughout the month. Ramadan is a month of spiritual bounty and blessings, which is why when we greet each other during this time we wish each other a “generous Ramadan,” or Ramadan karim.
And so for you, Lisa, I pray that this month for you is one filled with blessings, spiritual insight and upliftment. Ramadan karim.
Fasting is already a regular spiritual practice of my evangelical faith. Each year for the past few years, I have done a graduated one month fast during the Lenten season; eating less and less over the course of the month until the last week when I eat no food at all. Each time I fast, whether for one day or one month, the practice bears much fruit. The spiritual discipline of fasting serves as a deep cleanse for the soul; raising all the soul’s sludge to the surface so that God might wipe us clean.
It is no different in the Islamic tradition. I must say, though, as I’ve learned about Ramadan practices my Evangelical fasting habits are beginning to look like Ramadan Lite. I find myself both intimidated by and greatly anticipating the depth of spiritual, mental, and emotional cleansing that Ramadan’s spiritual discipline promises. This year Ramadan offers the added challenge of taking place during the longest periods of daylight in the year. To have breakfast, I will have to wake up at about 4am and I won’t be able to eat or drink again until after 8 p.m. each day. My hope is that by engaging the Fast of Ramadan this year, my faith in Jesus will be deepened.
IMAM FEISAL AND LISA:
We look forward to sharing our experiences of Ramadan with Sojourners readers throughout the season. We will both write about our experiences of the Fast; offering spiritual reflections from the experience. Lisa will visit mosques in the various cities where she will be traveling and will break the fast at Iftar dinners with Muslim friends and neighbors when possible.
As-Salamu Alaykum. (Peace be with you.)
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.
Feisal Abdul Rauf is an American Sufi imam, author, and activist whose stated goal is to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West. From 1983 to 2009, he served as Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a mosque in New York City.
Image: Muslim rosary beads, prayer rug and lantern by JOAT/shutterstock.