Sunday night my wife, Rochelle, and I accepted an invitation from the Yaseen Foundation to attend Iftar – the sunset, fast-breaking – at a local mosque. As a member of the board for the Peninsula Clergy Network, the professional association for Bay area clergy, I was glad to accept the invitation from one of my fellow board members, the Imam of the mosque. Since 9/11, Americans, in general, have learned a great deal – though certainly not enough and not always correct – about Islam; the month of Ramadan being chief among these learnings.
As you know, during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset. The fast is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. In the past, friends of mine, for want of learning, fellowship and understanding have participated fully in Ramadan and found it to be a moving and productive time. Rochelle and I did not choose to join the fast, but we did want to learn, directly from practitioners, what Islam and Ramadan are about. Over the next little while, I’ll post some thoughts about our experience.
When people learn that we participated in Iftar, the first question is always, “Why?” Why would devoted Christ-followers, which Rochelle and I are, choose to participate in a ritual and prayer service from another religion? It’s a fair question, I think, so here’s our reasoning.
- What most Christians know of Islam is what they see and hear in the media. Unfortunately, both for Christians and Muslims alike, the focus of the media and Islam is on terrorism. That’s understandable given that the perpetrators of 9/11 and other terrorist acts have claimed Islam as their religion and justified their actions as both faithful to and in concert with the Qur’an and religious purity. Thinking Christians, however, know that White-Supremist and other bad actors in history have misrepresented the Christian faith in order to justify their own twisted perspectives. Is my church, and nearly every Christian I know, represented by the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Christians who supported slavery and abortion clinic bombers? I think not. To understand what a religion truly is, people of good faith and intent must listen to it’s best practitioners and allow the religion to speak for itself. As the keynote speaker at our Iftar said, “In every religion there are people intent on distorting the religion.” Apparently, there is a darkness in the human heart so twisted that it seeps out in every worldview, religion, and perspective.
- I didn’t know any Muslim. It’s very easy to caricature people you don’t know. It’s even easier to fixate on the differences that live on the surface – dress, language, skin color, etc… – all those things that are highly visible but fairly superficial. Regardless of who it is, when humans sit at table with actual people, we discover that we share a great deal. We all have a desire to see our children prosper, a want to live in peace, to exercise our freedom of religion, and preserve the goodness of the Earth God has given us. As one who continues to believe in the supremacy of Christ, I enter these relationships always hopeful of Christian conversion, but even short of that, engaging with practitioners of another religion, profits me the opportunity to represent Christ to others who may have misconceptions about Christianity and Christ.
- To learn something. Oddly, there are pockets within our world that are firmly anti-intellectual. There are some people who are suspicious of people who read “too much,” study “too much” or have advanced education. Do we really believe that it’s better to know less rather than more? Ignorance leads to fear and “fear to the dark side.” As someone charged by God to teach, experience and information are not only the tools of my trade, but the way I “face” the world – to borrow and image from F. LeRon Shults. As our country becomes increasingly polarized, knowledge of one another and the ability to listen to and not speak past one another are keys to regaining civility and advancing our shared hopes and dreams.
I’m reminded at this moment that Jesus hung out with a lot of people that the good, church-going religious folks shunned. When I die, I want people to be able to say the same thing about me.
(to be continued)
Take the “How Well Do You Know Islam Quiz” here.