Bismillah Arrahman Arraheem. In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
I write to you, dear Muslim sisters and brothers, in the name of the One God who holds you and me and all peoples, all worlds, all faiths, in a single, eternal embrace.
As the holy month of Ramadan begins, I pray for your strength and sustenance as you begin to undertake this month-long fast from sunrise to sunset. I pray not only for your physical endurance though the long daylight hours as spring blends into summer, but also for faith to ease the ache in your bellies and bless you with peace of mind, heart, body and spirit.
I pray as someone whose faith journey has been blessed by beautiful Muslim friends and by Islam itself. My meandering spiritual path has wound its way through doubt and faith within both Christianity and Islam. While I now claim Christianity, Islam will always be a blessing to me. Learning and practicing Islam has deepened my faith in both God and humanity. It has guided me to lifelong friendships with some of the most brilliant and compassionate people I know, it has gifted me with the solace of building my life around daily communion with God, and it has helped me understand how God’s Oneness gently binds all of creation in interdependent relationship and responsibility.
More on my journey to Islam and back to Christianity can be found here, here, and here. While I no longer call myself a Muslim with a capital “M,” I acknowledge that the God to whom I submit is the same God to whom Muslims prostrate daily.
So I pray in thanksgiving for you, my dear Muslim friends, as your fast begins. I pray in thanksgiving for the Holy Month of Ramadan. I pray with the gentle weight of nostalgia sitting on my heart as I remember fasting with my brothers and sisters many years ago. It was back in the winter when daylight hours were shorter. The early morning breakfasts before the break of dawn — when most of the world was still asleep — and the delicious Iftar dinners in the dark of night were close enough together that I could just barely hold out. I pray knowing the joy of striving and pushing one’s self to the limit. I know the blessing of a loving community mutually engaged in the difficult but rewarding work of fasting, and I know the need for solidarity with the worldwide ummah. I hope that my prayers can be a small part of the strength you gather as you endure much longer hours than I ever did. In prayer, I also empathize with the difficulty and temptation you will face. Abstaining from food, drink, and sex during these long hours is difficult enough, but to abstain also from bitterness and short temper, from snapping irritably to losing patience and yelling at the kids, all on an empty stomach – this is difficult even for the most dedicated and devout. I pledge to strive with you in the daily struggle to curb anger for which Ramadan calls, knowing that it will be difficult on a full stomach! I know I will stumble and fall, and if you do too, I pray that we all know the infinite love and mercy of God who appreciates our struggles and sets us gently back upon our feet.
I know Ramadan is a month that requires tremendous faith. I also know it is one in which struggles with doubt may become painfully acute. And, while I know it may be strange to hear this from a non-Muslim, I want you to know that as a believer in the same gracious and merciful God, I hope that, if doubt is a companion on your journey, you may come to know it as a blessing and a friend. I say this as someone who once felt weak and fearful because of doubt, but whose faith journey would have been over before it had begun had not doubt pressed me further.
In fact, one of the most beautiful things about Islam is how it originated in doubt as well as faith. The Jahiliyya, or Age of Ignorance in pre-Islamic Arabia, was, as my friend Adam Ericksen explains, a time when “fate” was thought to determine the rich from the poor, the winners from the losers, leaving little incentive for compassion or generosity. It was a world in which tribal gods were invoked in violent raids of conquest, and the wealth of a few created a world of desperation and misery for the poor, particularly the widow and the orphan. Sadly, this sounds very much like our world today.
Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Holy Qur’an. This month of fasting reminds us that we hear God most clearly when we stand in solidarity with those most in need. Going long hours without food and drink tunes the heart, mind, body and spirit to the needs of those who must go even longer, those to whom food does not always come with the setting of the sun. If Ramadan brings out your doubt, perhaps in your own ability to maintain abstinence and restraint, may that doubt be channeled as empathy toward those who must survive on less. If, in solidarity with the poor and hungry, you begin to doubt the good in a world where too many are starving and destitute, may that doubt be channeled in the direction of loving resolution to continue in the struggle for justice. And if Ramadan bolsters your faith in the God who sustains you even through long hours without food or drink, may you recognize the same God who holds you holds the whole world. In doubt and in faith, may Ramadan be a time of empathy and solidarity, drawing out the depths of human compassion. This is how we participate in the mercy that God reveals to us in so many ways, including the sacred scripture of the Holy Qur’an.
I say all of this feeling the call to solidarity and empathy so acutely. I say this as a believer and a doubter, a person of faith in God and humanity. I say this as someone unprepared to fast, and yet longing to join as I am able in the practice of Ramadan, because I believe in its fundamental truth. I believe God calls us to know hunger so that we may rededicate ourselves to making hunger no more. I believe that God calls us to communal disciplines because when we share in the solidarity of humility and vulnerability, we do not strive to fill our needs at each others’ expense but rather find our mutual needs filled by the true Source. I believe that Ramadan is a time for making peace. As a non-Muslim dedicated to interfaith dialogue, I believe I have a responsibility to show my love and support for the Muslim world at all times but especially now, by speaking out against bigotry, hatred, and endless war.
This Ramadan, I pledge to re-read the Holy Qur’an, as Muslims are called to do, and to interpret it through a lens of peacemaking, friendship-building, and restorative justice. Where I find difficulty in understanding, I will consult the works of Muslim peacemakers.
This Ramadan and evermore, I pledge myself in solidarity with you, my Muslim sisters and brothers. We are guided along intertwining paths by the same Creator who cherishes and sustains us, called to the same tasks of justice, mercy, and peace-making, and, I believe, ultimately bound for the same destiny of a deeper connection to God and each other in everlasting Love.
Editor’s Note: Incidentally, as this month of fasting begins, the Raven ReView will also begin a fast… from posting articles. We are revitalizing our website, rededicating ourselves to our mission of changing views and changing the world by seeing what we can do to make Raven a more inviting and welcoming home. We’ll be working behind the scenes, and sometime after Ramadan is over we will invite you to feast your eyes — and minds and spirits — on our new site and be nourished with content old and new that provides calm in a world of chaos and facilitates community in a world of conflict. Until then, dear friends, peace be with you!
Image: Stock Photo from 123rf.com.