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Forging Community Through Fasting

No More Excuses

Forging Community through Fasting

by Vicki Garlock

“My life is dedicated to changing the narrative of fear and isolation that is purveyed by political and religious leaders in our communities, nation, and world.”

                       – Jeff Eagan, Co-founder of Se7en Fast 

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Ramadan! This year Ramadan began on about May 26 and it will end, with Eid al-Fitr, around June 24. During the month, Muslims give special attention to their religious practices, make an extra effort to help those in need, and attempt to eliminate other vices, such as smoking, swearing, and gossiping. Ramadan is probably best known though as “the month of fasting,” when Muslims from around the world refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The fast is broken at sunset, with the evening call to prayer, Maghrib, and the evening meal, iftar. If none of this sounds familiar to you, check out some of these links for more information:

Increasingly, both Muslims and non-Muslims are using Ramadan as a chance to forge friendships across religious boundaries. Since iftar is a community meal anyway, it provides a ready-made way to change negative stereotypes about Islam and the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Interfaith iftar held at The Potter’s House in Washington D.C. in June, 2016 - Photo:  Se7en Fast

Interfaith iftar held at The Potter’s House in Washington D.C. in June, 2016 - Photo:  Se7en Fast

Jeff and Jessey Eagan are on the forefront of these efforts. Their website, Se7en Fast (pronounced “Seven Fast”), serves as a clearinghouse for interfaith iftars across America. Last year the site provided information on 27 iftars. This year they’ve already posted over 150 iftars in 30 states, and the list is growing. “We created Se7en Fast to provide opportunities for Muslims and non-Muslims to break bread together,” Jeff said, adding that, “it’s one of the most profound acts of peacemaking known to humankind.”

Their brainchild is both ingenious and simple. To find an interfaith iftar in your area, simply click on the Locate and RSVP link found at the top of the home page. Then click on your home state and see what’s available in your area. Iftars might be held in churches, mosques, or community centers. Regardless of location, most of the iftars listed include contact info and links to RSVP/buy tickets. The link takes you directly to the community hosting the event, another local organization that then lists area iftars, or your contact info is used to match you with a nearby host family who is opening their home to non-Muslims. To promote an interfaith iftar, simply complete the form on the Promote an Iftar page, and the Eagans will add it to their site.

Photo:  Brand New Day

Although Se7en Fast was created only a couple of years ago, the Eagans continue to update their approach. Originally they proposed that non-Muslims fast in solidarity with Muslims on July 7, 2015, which is the where the name “Se7en Fast” originated, but soon realized this was unsustainable. Since the Muslim calendar is lunar, the month of Ramadan ‘moves up’ by about 11 days per year on the Gregorian calendar. This means July 7th doesn’t even fall during Ramadan in 2017. Therefore they now have moved toward helping people connect with one another by promoting iftars that occur throughout Ramadan. Se7en Fast is also partnering with Shoulder-to-Shoulder, an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment in America. The Shoulder-to-Shoulder website includes links for promoting and finding iftars open to non-Muslims, as well as tips for hosting an interfaith iftar event.

Jeff Eagan is also deeply committed to engagement across lines of difference in other ways. In addition to maintaining the Se7en Fast site, Jeff recently published Of Strangers and Enemies: A Pathway to Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, where he explores the command to love neighbors, strangers, and enemies through the lenses of the three Abrahamic Faiths. As he put it, “We can no longer ‘live and let live.’ That philosophy of life is passive, disengaged, and potentially dangerous….We all need to fight our impulse to hunker down, to ignore, and to keep our distance.” To this end, Jeff hosts an interfaith/inter-cultural podcast called Frienemies. Last year he produced a six-part series called Ramadan Conversations and recently posted a conversation between four Muslim filmmakers/activists/artists about art, story, and being Muslim in America. In the future, Jeff hopes to expand his reach by facilitating new interfaith iftars by pairing Muslim communities interested in hosting with Christian communities interested in attending.

Groups like Se7en Fast and Shoulder-to-Shoulder want Ramadan-observing Muslims in the U.S. to know they are both appreciated and supported. As Jeff said, “I hear people saying all the time, ‘Why don’t Muslims invite us to anything?’ We’re here to say, ‘They do!’ There are no more excuses.” So visit the web site, click on your home state, and see what’s available. If there are no interfaith iftars listed, think about helping to organize one next year. Ramadan 2018 starts around May 15, and it’s never too early to start planning. In fact, once you have a date, let Jeff know and he’ll add your event to the site!