When 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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