Sharing Ramadan with Others

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi

Can you believe it? Ramadan is almost over and we are right in the midst of the holiest time of this holy month: the last ten days which are full of blessings, forgiveness and mercy from Allah. Partly due to the physical toll of fasting and partly as a sign of respect for the intense spirituality of these last few days, many Muslims tend to withdraw within themselves and place more emphasis on prayer and quietude. Here’s why this may not be the best way to spend the last ten days of Ramadan.

For many mosques in the U.S. and Europe, Ramadan is an ideal time for interfaith dialogue. People are naturally curious about the fasting practices of Muslims, not only because they are similar to traditions of Lent and Yom Kippur, but also because our fast is considered so much more strenuous than theirs. They want to know how we do it, and why. Instead of retreating to our homes or mosques, opening up our spaces to outsiders from different religious backgrounds can be a wonderful way to share not just the month of Ramadan, but also the beautiful teachings of Islam.

A Time to Remove Misconceptions

As the interfaith coordinator for my mosque in Houston, I organize weekly interfaith iftars for women in my community. Yes, it takes time and effort, and the participation of many of my friends, but it is truly worth it. Each week we welcome five to ten women of various faiths for a group discussion, mosque tour and salat observation. The conversation begins with fasting, but often quickly expands to many other topics. Americans are curious about Islam, and they bring all types of questions and concerns to the iftar table. Invariably the queries start with “I heard on the news that….” What a wonderful opportunity for us to defend our faith from media attacks, and to change the minds of our neighbors! What a great time to remove stereotypes and misconceptions, and sow the seeds of friendship and harmony!

Another benefit of interfaith iftars is that we as Muslims learn something about our neighbors as well. After all, fasting is a tradition in one form or the other in most other religions, yet we Muslims tend to think that we are the only ones who practice this ritual in today’s materialistic and nonreligious society. Not so. I think it is time to change our stereotypes and misconceptions as well. Fully understanding that interfaith dialogue must be a two-way street in order to be helpful, I don’t try to control the tide of conversation in any way, and allow my guests to talk about how and why they fast as well. Surprisingly, many Christians and Jews tell us about complete fasts they keep not only for their own faiths but also as a point of solidarity with Muslims. Last week a woman emailed me to say that in anticipation of an upcoming interfaith event at my mosque she plans to fast the whole day, so that she can know what we all feel like. I was so honored that it brought tears to my eyes.

At my interfaith gatherings, devout Christians share their experiences with fasting and prayer, and devout Jews explain the much more difficult fast of Yom Kippur and other lesser fasts in Judaism. We discuss the discipline, perseverance and love of God that pervades all of us as we shun food and drink and so much more as a sign of our faith. Such information helps me and my friends understand that we are all more similar than different, that we can find commonalities instead of trying to find areas of weakness or inferiority in others. If we could all think in this manner about each other, our world would be a peaceful place indeed.

So as we prepare to bid goodbye to another Ramadan, why not open up your mosque or home to a few neighbors? Provide a simple meal, give time for discussion and conversation. I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised not just at how your offer is received, but also at the increase in spirituality you gain as a result of this simple act of hospitality. Sharing Ramadan can make a big different these last ten days, so please take the first step.

  • Guest

    Dear blogger,

    I am extremely pro interfaith just like you are and agree that interfaith and dialogue builds bridges between faiths and is a great route to take always. However, it is disheartening to read your take on the last 10 days of Ramadan: You write, “of these last few days, many Muslims tend to withdraw within themselves and place more emphasis on prayer and quietude. Here’s why this may not be the best way to spend the last ten days of Ramadan.”

    I believe that God encourages us to seek “quietude” and pray to Him especially in the last 10 days of Ramadan. Why else would there be Itikaf that both men and women partake in. Itikaf is to remain in the mosque for the last 10 days of Ramadan and to devote one’s time wholly to the worship and remembrance of ‘Allah…

    While most Muslims may not be able to sit itikaf in the last 10 days, they may take this time to increase their prayers and spend more one on one time with God. Spending time seeking the love and company of God is to be commended and not simply brushed off as “Here’s why this may not be the best way to spend the last ten days of Ramadan”

    • Saadia Faruqi

      Assalamo alaikum and thank you for the feedback. Yes I agree that the last 10 days of Ramadan and the emphasis on prayer is certainly very important. I didn’t mean to imply that wasn’t a great way to spend Ramadan. But as interfaith coordinator for my mosque I sometimes face resistance from members not wanting to participate in dialogue because of this reason. My statement was meant for those people who may be reluctant to invite or interact with guests in their homes or mosques due to an increased schedule of prayer. I think both are important in different ways, in fact when we attempt to promote dialogue as a means of removing misconceptions about Islam and to present its beautiful teachings, it too becomes a form of worship. But your comment is valid and I appreciate it very much. Jazakallah.