Learning from Ramadan
by Patrick McInerney
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities could equally describe our times.
On the one hand there is the extraordinary goodness, generosity and hospitality of Muslims inviting others to iftar meals at the end of the day of fasting. It is offered to families, neighbors, people of other faiths and the wider community, in private homes and in public halls, served to a select few or offered magnanimously to hundreds.
On the other hand, there is the appalling violence inflicted by misguided elements in the name of a perverted religious ideology who have committed criminal assaults on innocent civilians in Manchester, Kabul, Marawi, London, Manila, Melbourne, and Tehran, to name but a few.
These two realities stand in stark contrast to one another. They are incompatible. They force us to choose. In which of these two worlds do we want to live? The world of fear, suspicion, terror, and violence? Or the world of peace, harmony, justice, and good relations?
I choose the latter. I refuse to allow a few extremists to divide the world into “us” and “them.” I choose to be “with” rather than “against.” I choose to pray for others, not prey on them. I choose to be a guest at the table, not an enemy outside. As Pope Francis said in Cairo: “What is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.”
To realize this better world, we need to keep on crossing the “no man’s land” between warring sides, like St. Francis of Assisi. We need to meet face-to-face, as he did with Sultan Malik al-Kamil. We need to come together to be light in dark times. We need to share food and conversation to nourish both body and spirit; to break down prejudices, fears and stereotypes; to build relations and community. In many Christian traditions, sharing bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus is called “Holy Communion.” The Muslim iftar meal is also sacred and also builds communion.
I thank the many Muslims for their hospitality and example during Ramadan. I take this opportunity to wish them all – Eid Mubarik, that is, Happy Feast Day!
This reflection was originally published in the June 2017 issue of Bridges, a publication of the Columban Mission Institute of Sydney, Australia.