Experiencing Ramadan Reflections 2013

“Without real empathy, Christian Muslim dialogue remains a dialogue on the surface, a light encounter as opposed to a rich, mutually shared experience which can continue to inspire new avenues for exploration.”  Mona Siddiqui – Christians, Muslims & Jesus

 

Mohammed AliMohammed Ali- Ramadan is a great opportunity to build bridges with people of all faiths and none, the highlight being the radical decision by Ch4 to screen the morning Adhaan (call to prayer) and the 4Ramadan series including “Ramadan Reflections” and “Ramadan Diaries”.

Building Bridges has been on the menu at many iftars, the Big Iftar saw many mosques across the country opening its doors to invite ministers, faith leaders and communities to share a meal, whilst Dine@Mine saw an innovative way of Muslim families sharing Iftar with families and individuals. This year we saw many towns and cities hosting Iftar with the homeless events which is a great way to share the a key message of Ramadan, through hunger and thirst of 18 hours fasts we build empathy with the homeless in Britain who often do not know where their next meal will be coming from.

Experiencing Ramadan started in 2010 and has evolved into an annual event, to experientially learn about Ramadan by fasting from dawn to dusk, by going without food and water. The evening brings participants together for Interfaith reflections and much needed Iftar. Experiencing Ramadan has grown from Preston to Manchester, Lancaster & London. We plan to grow further for Experiencing Ramadan 2014, if you are interested in becoming a host or would like to take part next years, please email me on mohammed_ali_79@yahoo.co.uk

This year we collectively raised over £1100 for the mental health charity Mind. Mental health is an important issue which faces people of all faiths and none, unfortunately it continues to be a taboo subject within all segments of society. We struggle to speak about our experiences due to the stigma. Faith and spirituality can provide resilience to promote positive mental health and allow healing ourselves and our communities, during Interfaith Week 2013 we intend to organise a faith & mental health event.

As part of our Interfaith Iftar we invited Rev Pete Hamborg of Christ Church (Fulwood, Preston) to reflect on fasting from a Christian perspective, this is a great opportunity to learn from each other by exploring our similarities and creating a greater understanding of our differences.

 

Rev Peter HamborgRev Pete Hamborg- I was invited by Ali Amla to take part in a one day Ramadan fast on July 27th, and in the process I was able to raise £200 for the mental health charity ‘Mind.’ I found the experience demanding, and it certainly gave me a new level of respect for this Islamic discipline.

It was a pleasure to break fast with an Iftar meal alongside some of my Muslim neighbours that evening. The evening was warm and open, with some good humour as well as some serious moments. Prior to breaking fast we heard some Quran recitation and listened to reflections on the meaning of Ramadan for Muslims. I was also humbled to be invited to speak on the Christian perspective on fasting, which demonstrated that this was a two-way process in which we are all wishing to understand one another better, and learn from each other.

Ali Amla has asked me to summarise my talk on this subject of fasting, which I summarise as follows:

There is no specific command in the bible for Christians to fast. In the Old Testament there was the compulsory fast on the Jewish ‘day of atonement’ which for Christians is now redundant. But there is a strong tradition of fasting within Christian tradition, and references to it within both the Old and New Testament. It is considered appropriate on certain occasions and for particular reasons.

1. The Fasting of Jesus in the Wilderness

Jesus fasted from food for 40 days and nights in the wilderness (no mention of fasting from water). Our understanding as Christians is that:

  • Jesus’battles against the flesh, and against the temptations of the devil. Through his time in the wilderness Jesus proves that he is stronger than the devil.
  • Prior to this passage Jesus has just been baptized in the river Jordan and has been given power by God to fulfil his mission. Through fasting he now strengthens himself for this work that God has set him apart for.
  • It was a spiritual discipline: demonstrating self control, the purifying of the heart and mind, and it brought him to a place of intense obedience and dependence upon God. Christians remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness through the forty day season of Lent. Different traditions will practice various forms and degrees of fasting during Lent, from giving up simple things like chocolate or alcohol through to a full fasting from food for a day or two a week. The practice of Christian fasting during Lent various greatly across the world. My sister is currently working in Jordan and she tells me that the Christians around her in Jordan give up all meat and dairy products for the whole of Lent.

 

2. Jesus’ teaching on fasting

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.” (Matthew 6:16)

Jesus teaches that fasting is a private devotional activity between you and God, and we should even go to lengths to hide from others that we are fasting.

‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast (Matthew 9:14-15)

Here Jesus rejects the ritual fasting tradition of his contemporary culture, but upholds the teaching that fasting may accompany times of mourning and repentance. This association of fasting with sorrow for our sins runs through the Old Testament portion of the bible.

 

3. Old Testament Teaching on Fasting

I will only raise attention to one particularly striking passage on this subject, which teaches about the true purpose of fasting:

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

(The prophet Isaiah 58:5-9)

Here the point is driven home that God is not ultimately interested in whether or not we have given up food. His concern is that our lives demonstrate justice and compassion. If our fasting does not lead us into these things then it is worthless to God and to us also therefore.

 

4. Fasting for Prayer in the New Testament

The New Testament teaching is more concerned that we pray with faith (believing that God will answer), and that our lives practice righteousness. We are told that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But we read in the New Testament of occasions when the early church, built on the first apostles, fasted alongside prayer.

And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe. (Acts 14:23)

The examples of fasting (here are others) seem to accompany fervent prayer, big decisions, and occasions where the early Christians wished to discern the will of God. It is considered that God may speak to us when we come to this special place of attentiveness through fasting.

 

5. Summary

Fasting is a devotional spiritual discipline through which we develop godly character. For Christians it is especially appropriate at times of sorrow and penitence. It is also appropriate for intensified prayer and a deeper awareness of God. But we have no particular rules on it. It not to be viewed as a way of receiving God’s merit or favour, since for Christians salvation is not secured through observances but through faith in Jesus Christ. We may fast out of love for God (and at times arguably should), but it is not a requirement for receiving his love in return or for receiving forgiveness of our sins.

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Further Reflections from Experiencing Ramadan 2013

Golden Room Inter-religious journal

Stark Family reflection

Maham Reflection

Preston vicar takes part in Ramadan fast

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