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Interfaith Perspectives on Food and Fasting

Food and Faith in Sydney, Australia 

Interfaith Perspectives on Food and Fasting

From the Center for Christian-Muslim Relations of Sydney 

In a culture often obsessed with haute cuisine and fed by big-agra, it is easy to forget how food, faith, and fasting play critical roles in all religious, spiritual traditions. If you were brought up in a religious family, you may know a lot about food in your own tradition. No surprise, other traditions are equally engaged in what their food means and the many ways it relates to their practice.

Two years ago the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Sydney, Australia published a short collection of stories about food and faith, written by a Melkite Catholic, a Jew, a Sikh, and a Muslim. Each was asked to reflect briefly on the meaning and significance of food in their religion and culture. And in fact, the lovely details they share represent but a snippet of the food traditions in their respective communities. Imagine a hundred or several hundred similarly rich stories from other traditions to discern how important food and drink are to us human beings, above and beyond keeping us alive.

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The Gift of Fellowship

  Worship and communal eating almost always accompany Melkite Catholic communities, this one in Jordan. – Photo: Catholics & Culture, Zaid Hadda

Worship and communal eating almost always accompany Melkite Catholic communities, this one in Jordan. – Photo: Catholics & Culture, Zaid Hadda

“Similar to fasting and abstinence, communal meals play an important seasonal role in the life of the Melkite, that is Greek-Catholic, Church. As a practicing Melkite, my church community often celebrates together with meals on the church grounds, particularly on feast days ... Even though we’re encouraged to focus more on the loving words that leave our mouths rather than the food that does or doesn’t enter it, Melkite abstinence typically entails the avoidance of meats, fish, dairy products, eggs, and olive oil. So, you can only imagine the Middle Eastern feast that awaits as soon as we stop fasting and abstaining ... or if you’ve not yet had the chance to cook, I find a large Quarter Pounder meal from Maccas can do the trick! No matter what we eat or where we are, Melkites just care more about being together.”

– Mark Scotto Di Perta, Melkite Catholic

Food for the Sabbath

  Six braided Jewish Challah with sesame – Photo: Wikimedia, Aviv Hod

Six braided Jewish Challah with sesame – Photo: Wikimedia, Aviv Hod

“Food and sharing food with others is a central part of Judaism and Jewish culture. Dietary laws and blessings over meals are part of the daily rituals of Judaism. During Passover, Jewish families welcome others into their home to partake in a feast, with each item of food symbolizing part of the Passover story. On Shavuot (Pentecost), Jewish people traditionally eat dairy; on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), a range of foods such as pomegranates, which are seen to be omens; and during Chanukah, the festival of lights, Jewish families share fried foods. Sharing food is an essential part of building bridges and understanding – only this month I attended a joint Sabbath dinner, attended by representatives of the Jewish and Indian communities. Together partaking in Shabbat bread and grape juice, it was an amazing opportunity to increase understanding of each other’s cultures, diverse religious backgrounds and traditions.”

– Glen Falkenstein, Jewish

The Gift of Food

  Langar was served daily at the Salt Lake City 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. – Photo: TI

Langar was served daily at the Salt Lake City 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. – Photo: TI

“Reflecting back to my experiences at the Gurudwara (Temple), there were many occasions where I helped cook to serve hundreds of people visiting the temple! Langar (free kitchen) was a core part of our congregation. It was designed to uphold equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, color, age or gender status. In addition, it expresses sharing, community, inclusiveness, and oneness of all humankind. In a world where many barriers divide us, food can bring us together.”

– Satjit Singh, Sikh

Breaking a Fast

  A plate of iftar goodies from Bangladesh – Photo: Wikipedia,  Raasiel  (who was the cook)

A plate of iftar goodies from Bangladesh – Photo: Wikipedia, Raasiel (who was the cook)

“Food has a special place in Islam and significance for Muslims. Its vitality comes to the fore in observance of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day and eat only at other times. During Ramadan, Muslims arrange for an early breakfast before dawn, suhoor, and for an iftar dinner at sunset every day to keep and break their fasts respectively. This abstinence from food among other things, during the daylight hours, not only raises its temptation but also makes it a unique socially binding element for the Ramadan lifestyle. Suhoor and especially iftar involve gatherings of family and friends over assorted cultural meals. From full-of-carbs pakoras to healthy fruits, the iftar tables are full of yumminess. Due to being a common prophetic practice of beginning iftars with dates, this fruit has its own attraction for Muslims around the globe and becomes an indispensable ingredient during this month. The month of Ramadan culminates with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, which again is known for its sweets, desserts and feasts.”

– Kamran Khalid, Muslim

This article was originally published in bridges, a publication of the Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations in Sydney, Australia, in June 2015.

Header Photo: Langar at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah - Interfaith Sikh