April 19, 2019

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Plant seeds of kindness with Muslim neighbors during Ramadan

Fr. Rick GintherAs we Christians begin our holy Easter season this weekend, our fasting comes to end, and our rejoicing begins. Alleluia!

On May 5-6, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan commences. It ends on June 4-5.

Tradition states that the Quran, Islam’s holy book, was completed in this month. Devout Muslims remain very focused in their faith throughout this time.

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset the entire month. They refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations. They work hard to refrain from any sinful behavior such as lying, cursing, false speech and negative emotions like anger.

These practices are meant to teach them the true meaning of perseverance and tolerance.

Generous support of the poor also marks this period. It is believed that the rewards of all good deeds (praying, giving charity) are increased during the month of Ramadan.

Like the Greek Orthodox fast during Lent, Ramadan can seem extreme to many of us. I have asked some of my Muslim friends about this. They simply state that they are used to it. It is a part of their life of faith expressed through discipline. It is a response to God’s goodness.

Recently, I was re-reading a talk given at the 2012 Muslim-Catholic national plenary. Jesuit Father Thomas Michel delivered a keynote titled “Living our Faith Together.” His focus was Abraham, the father of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

He stated that “[b]oth the Qur’an and the Bible teach us that one of Abraham’s key virtues is hospitality. Both religions teach that hospitality should be our special concern. …” Not only of our fellow religionist, but to all “outside our immediate circle.”

He recounted studying Arabic in 1992 in Cairo. One afternoon during Ramadan, he took a walk through the streets of the city’s old neighborhood. It was nearly sunset. The streets were quiet. Families were gathering to break the fast together.

“[Suddenly], … a man came running out of one of the small houses, grabbed my arm, and started pulling me toward his home. ‘Hurry!’ he said, ‘It’s almost time for iftar’ [Iftar is the meal with which Muslims break the fast.]

“Thinking that he was presuming I was a Muslim who had nowhere to eat, I said, ‘But I’m a Christian.’ He said, ‘Ma’laish! [That doesn’t matter!] It’s a blessing from God for us to have a guest for iftar.’ So, after some more persuading, I went in and met his wife and five children, we enjoyed good food and experienced the joy of what we might call ‘table fellowship.’

“It’s a blessing from God to have a guest! Through the hospitality of this simple man—Faruq, a barber,” Father Michel continued, “I learned something about the graces, the blessings, that God grants to Muslims who piously perform their Ramadan fast. …

“… I came to understand something about Islam that I couldn’t have learned from books, that is, what Abrahamic hospitality is really like when it is practiced in modern life, and the way that God wants us to accept ‘the stranger in our midst.’ ”

We may not be so fortunate to be such a welcome guest this Ramadan. But we can be good Christian neighbors to our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout Ramadan 2019. Pray for them. Let them know you are praying for them.

One neighborly action could be placing a “To our Muslim Neighbors: Blessed Ramadan” sign in our yards. To see a sample, search “blessed Ramadan signs images” on the Internet.

I have a limited supply at a reasonable cost. (E-mail me at rginther@archindy.org). Or you can go directly to BlessedRamadan.org through the Minnesota Council of Churches. Click on “Respectful Communities,” then “Interfaith Programming,” then “Blessed Ramadan Signs” for how to order.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. He is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Indianapolis.)

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