Ramadan – Engagement or Rejection?

Roxbury Mosque

I am on the mailing list of a large mosque in the Roxbury area of Boston. While Egypt’s minarets give us a journey through history and Turkey boasts Ottoman only, the mosque in Roxbury is modern. It sits across from Roxbury Community College, its dome and minaret smaller than those in the Muslim world. I’ve been told that there were protests when the mosque opened.

Being able to express and live out our truth claims in freedom is a gift. A gift that I’d love everybody to have.

And because of this I’m glad that there is a mosque in Boston. I’m glad that my Muslim friends and acquaintances have a place to worship. When I lived in both Pakistan and Cairo I was grateful for a space where protestant churches met, churches that we could become a part of, form a community of like-minded believers. And controversial as this may seem to some, I want this for my Muslim friends.

Tomorrow, July 9 begins the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve written in the past about  Ramadan – about loving neighbors more than sheep, about my outsider perspective. This past week I received several mailings from the mosque on Ramadan. The mailings were to help set the stage for Ramadan, help people prepare for this month-long period of fasting.

And today I issue a challenge to fellow Christians, those who hold to my faith tradition. How many of us feel frustration when our faith is misunderstood, when myths abound, when others reject us because they disagree with what we believe? It’s not fair to pose this question in a blog – because it ends up being a rhetorical question.

But rejection for faith and truth claims is not fun. It’s lonely. It’s defeating. It’s discouraging. We want to scream when we hear misconceptions about Christianity and shout “No – that’s not the way it is! If we could just have a conversation….”. We long to engage with people about our faith because it’s important, because it’s foundational to who we are and how we live. Engaging with people over their beliefs does not mean we are watering down our own. How did many of us come to believe that relationships, friendships and listening to others, meant that we would fall down some slippery slope of forsaking our truth claims; of being false to that which we believe?

So the month of Ramadan comes around and we have a chance to live out what we want others to live at Christmas. We want others to say “Merry Christmas” – so to your Muslim friends you might say “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Or better still, ask them – ask them what to say. Ask them what Ramadan means and what traditions accompany this time of fasting. And ask yourself the question: Will you engage during Ramadan or reject?

We live in a world that quickly rejects based on appearance, religion, actions and more. How do we learn to live in truth to what we believe – which means that at some point we will disagree – and yet not be afraid to engage?  How can we remember the importance of friendships and relationships in living out our faith?  I ask myself this question all the time – how about you? 

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*Here is the text of the mailing I received. It may be interesting to those of you who are unfamiliar with Ramadan to see what a Muslim cleric located here in Boston says to those who attend the mosque.

As-salamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullah,

It is with great pleasure we announce that the first day of Ramadan will be Tuesday, July 9th 2012. We will begin praying Tarawih Monday, July 8th, after the ‘Isha prayers. Our staff is working hard to make this your best Ramadan in Boston iA.

The Prophet (sa) said that this month is one of the “pillars” of our faith. Its goal is piety and its means is to increase good works at all levels – the refinement of the soul and good character and increasing in acts of worship. In order to have a successful Ramadan, it is encouraged to focus on the following:

1. Repentance. The Prophet (sa) said, “A person who repents sincerely is like a person who has no sins.” Starting the month with a clean heart and record is one of the best ways to energize your relationship with Allah.

2. Establishing the individual obligations (Fard al-‘Ayn). A person who fasts and fails to establish the individual obligations, such as prayer, does not understand the purpose of fasting.

3. Increase in voluntary acts of goodness. Give generously, serve your community, and increase your supplications, prayers and God’s remembrance.

4. Focus on making this the month of Qur’an. Read as much Qur’an as possible. This includes listening to it on the way to work, during the day at home, or on your computer or phone on the T.

5. Increase the din, reduce the dunya. Focus your talks, chats, tweets and Facebook posts on the Hereafter, reducing your conversations about things of no benefit in the Hereafter.

6. Make this a month for your family. Strive to be home for Iftar after work if possible. Studies show that family meals act as major influences in keeping families healthy and strong.

7. Forgive those who have wronged you and hold nothing in your heart towards others. ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ood said, “Everyone isforgiven in Ramadan, except those who have hatred in their hearts towards their brethren.”

8. Be a constant source of good wherever you are. The Prophet (sa) said, “Best person is the one who is best to others.”

9. Worship with your family or friends. Parents should worship Allah together by completing a reading of the Qur’an together (with their children if possible). And roommates or friends should try to complete one together as well. Praying in the night together is commendable as is remembering God in gatherings – driving in the car or at home.

Re-post – Eid Mubarak! عید مُبارک

I’m sitting on my couch on a warm summer afternoon. The only sound is the fan breathing cool air into the room. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine I am in Egypt listening to the Call to Prayer echo across the city. For a moment I am intensely homesick….and then I will the feelings away. I wrote the post below last year but it seems appropriate, given the number of new readers to Communicating Across Boundaries, that I repost.

Perhaps you have shared an Eid feast in the past with Muslim friends, perhaps you are Muslim yourself and enjoying a day of feasting –either way I hope you enjoy the read and would love to hear from you.

Today marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, and begins a 3-day celebratory holiday called Eid-al-Fitr. After living so many years in Muslim countries I miss the celebrations and the time off. I miss the beautiful clothes and the spirit of festivity. As I rushed to catch the subway I almost bumped into a beautiful Pakistani couple on their way early morning to an Eid celebration. She had on an emerald-green shalwar chemise with gold embroidery and he was splendid in a Jinnah suit. Their little boy looked like he belonged in a Pakistani wedding, so regal for a pre-schooler. In delight I greeted them with the traditional “Eid Mubarak!” wishing them a “Blessed Feast”.

While Ramadan creates a sense of lethargy and far less activity, Eid-al-Fitr will change the landscape and bring on  festivities and food! Menus and cuisine vary according to country, with Egypt serving special sweets called “Kahk” and date-filled cookies and Pakistan serving huge plates of biryani (spicy rice and chicken) and kheer , a sweet rice dish.

Hospitality, always a high priority, is even more visible and there is a special charity expected during Eid-al-Fitr.

I remember this holiday from the time I was young. My first memory probably comes from Hyderabad, Pakistan where my father took my brothers and me out to watch Eid prayers at a large mosque. Thousands of men, all dressed in new clothes, and all bowing in unison with no sounds but the Call to Prayer and their personal quiet murmurings “Bismillah, ir Rahman ir Rahim” (In the Name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate) made a strong impression on me as a child. The picture has stayed with me through all the Eid celebrations I have witnessed through the years.

As a child and as an adult I have been welcomed into many homes during Eid al Fitr to celebrate with Muslim families. In my adult years, I have to confess that I have never reciprocated by inviting a Muslim family to dinner on Christmas. It is not something of which I am proud.

The lens through which we view the world is shaped by many things. I think I speak for many of us who grew up in the Muslim world, but were not Muslims, that we are often perplexed by the vehemence and hostility with which people respond to the Muslim world. This was not something that our parents taught us, not something that we were familiar with as children. While no one can deny nor justify the horror of terrorism and events in this country on 9/11, equating all Muslims and fearing them as terrorists is like equating all Christians as Westboro Baptist church.

An NPR story that came to my attention through my brother Stan called A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship : NPR speaks to something more familiar; friendship between people with a recognition that there are distinct differences between Islam and Christianity. My friend Nancy, who grew up in Al Ain but went to school in Pakistan, commented on the article that “Sheikh Zayed made a compound, land AND a chapel available to the handful of missionaries who set up the Oasis Hospital in Al Ain in 1960. He wanted health care for the people, and he wasn’t threatened by their faith”  My brother recalled “a story 150 years ago when Kyrgyz welcomed Mennonite farmers newly arrived in Central Asia. They offered them the use of their mosque for their Sunday meeting until they had their own place of worship.

To build relationships with people of other faiths is not compromising our faith. Rather, it’s living out a faith that is not threatened but firm.

I am not a Muslim, but today I wish my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak and am grateful to them for what I have learned through the years about devotion, faith, and hospitality.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8”

http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/09/10/an-egyptian-familys-eid-feast/