Fasting and feasting and we didn’t drink any wine!

Eid Mubarak - Credit: ShutterstockWhen submitting this article, Columban Fr Patrick McInerney said: “This article is about my very positive experience during Ramadan. I was really touched by the goodness, friendliness, generosity and hospitality of Muslims during this time. In the current climate of the bigoted, racist and Islamophobic attitudes that surfaced in the recent federal election, a personal testimony such as mine to the goodness and decency of the vast bulk of Muslims is all the more important. Hence I spent over four hours tonight writing and re-writing this article as a strong witness statement that expresses a Christian approach to Islam and Muslims."

It was a wonderful month. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was out most nights. I met lots of old friends. I made new friends. We shared meals. We had a great time. But we didn’t drink any wine!

What am I talking about? Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk – no food, no drink, no arguing, no swearing, no sexual activity. As the sun sets in the evening, they gather with family and friends for the iftar meal (literally, “breaking” the fast). I am a Catholic priest. I am not a Muslim. What has Ramadan to do with me? And why did I enjoy it so much?

Ramadan has become a major interfaith occasion around the world. It is certainly true where I now live in Sydney. Beside the family and neighbourhood gatherings, Muslim community organizations, mosques, corporate bodies, the NSW Parliament, the Premier, the Prime Minister, the Catholic Archbishop and other churches all host iftar meals. Often believers from other faiths are invited. Some are huge public events catering to hundreds. Others are for selected civic, religious and interfaith leaders.  Some are in private homes. Some provide meals for refugees, detainees, the homeless and the needy. Ramadan is a wave of Muslim generosity reaching out to the wider society.   

I have been invited to iftar meals for many years and am now meeting friends, so Ramadan has become a wonderful social time. I am touched by the warmth and friendliness of my Muslim hosts. I am astonished by their hospitality and generosity - literally thousands of guests are being fed every night. At one such event over 700 people were treated to a three course meal. But when I looked around the room I noted that I was the only Christian clergyman present. This saddened me as it indicated that the local Christian and Muslim communities were not in touch with each other. Priests and Imams who are busy meeting the needs of their own communities also need to reach out to each other. Hosting and being invited for an iftar meal are great ways to build those local community relations.

Ramadan is not just about fasting and feasting. It is also a time of spiritual devotion, of extra time spent in prayer and reading scripture. My daily intercession in the Eucharist was, “Let us pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers, that by the physical discipline of their fasting, the spiritual devotion of their hearts, and the generosity of their alms-giving, they may find grace and favour in God’s eyes”.  

The extraordinary generosity and hospitality of Muslims during Ramadan is all the more astonishing given the constant barrage of negative media reporting they suffer.  To counter this, I wish that more and more people could experience the goodness, warmth, friendliness, generosity and welcome of Muslim hosts that has been my privilege in the past month. 

And yes, I too fasted during the thirty days of Ramadan, as a gesture of Christian solidarity with Muslims, so that for me the evening meal was truly an iftar – a breaking of my fast!  And now I am also truly joining in the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the feast which marks the end of the month of fasting!  Eid Mubarak!  A blessed feast to all!

Rev Fr Patrick McInerney SSC is the Director of the Columban Mission Institute in Sydney and the Coordinator of its Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.

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Comments (7)

  1. Peter Hannan:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 12:20 PM

    Fr Walker/Editor - I wonder if you could, with Fr McInerney's permission, submit this article to The Age, The Herald Sun, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald as an opinion piece to counter some of the scary and appallingly bigoted nonsense we've experienced recently on, for example, the ABC's program, Q&A and others. You may well have tried doing just that, so forgive me if I'm carrying coals to Newcastle.
    Peter Hannan

    Last Edit: 21 Jul, 2016, 01:27:59 by Columban Missionaries


  2. Diana Hayes:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 01:10 PM

    Thanks for this. There has been too much air time given to those who are fearful and ignorant or who get their meaning out of condemning what they do not know.

    Last Edit: 21 Jul, 2016, 01:24:17 by Columban Missionaries


  3. Susan Connelly:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 01:59 PM

    Yes, as I was reading I thought, "This should be in the major dailies". Such a great read, and I must get involved next Ramadan.
    Thanks so much for writing this Patrick, and for all that you do.

    Last Edit: 21 Jul, 2016, 02:00:39 by Columban Missionaries


  4. Clive Pearce:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 02:22 PM

    Wonderful. I have helped with new arrivals in Tasmania and found they are kind and grateful.

    Last Edit: 21 Jul, 2016, 02:46:24 by Columban Missionaries


  5. Mark Norton:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 04:20 PM

    Thanks Pat, How true it is what you write. I fear it's going to be a long slog and it might get worse before it gets better, particularly with Pauline back in the Senate. We so much need to strengthen and in most cases initiate dialogue not only between Muslims and Christians but I think particularly between Muslims and non-believers, whom I suspect most Muslims find very hard to comprehend. In Australia I fear much of the resistance to dialogue will not come from the Muslim side.

    Last Edit: 21 Jul, 2016, 04:21:41 by Columban Missionaries


  6. Joe Barr:
    Jul 21, 2016 at 07:06 PM

    A wonderful and timely article. Many thanks, Father Pat. Some ten years ago I spent a month in Afghanistan on earthquake relief. During that time I was deeply impressed by the dignity and hospitality of people who, despite the destruction of their homes, would provide tea, a few sweets (all they had!)and a gentle conversation before getting to the details of their problems. A sobering contrast to the attitude of so many 'advanced' people.

    Last Edit: 25 Jul, 2016, 10:06:04 by Columban Missionaries


  7. Rita Prenavo:
    Jul 31, 2016 at 04:56 AM

    Thank you! I live in a mixed neighborhood in Chicago. We have a mosque 2 blocks away, Catholic church 4 blocks away, Greek Orthodox church 5 blocks away, and more. Many wonderful neighbors and the Muslims outstandingly friendly and generous!
    What a wonderful experience of God's love you had!

    Last Edit: 1 Aug, 2016, 01:13:58 by Columban Missionaries


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