Thursday, 01 June 2017

Iftar, generosity, and obligation

Written by Rev. Michael Barnes, Convener Relations with Other Faiths

Recently, I participated in the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews. We began the dialogue with prayers for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.

The topic of the meeting was fasting, with particular focus given to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month of Ramadan. In the evening, the fast is broken with an Iftar meal.

Ramadan celebrates the time of the year when the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It marks a period of prayer, penance, purification and acts of charity.

Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory for all adult Muslims, with exemptions for those who are unwell, and Islam prescribes how this should be observed in great detail.

Listening as a Protestant, I was intrigued. I became more aware of a fundamental distinction at work. Islam, as well as Judaism and Catholicism, are based on prescribed behaviour, whereas Protestant Christianity is based on prescribed beliefs.

For example, Protestants speak of the importance of love and concern for others whereas Islam requires that a Muslim give 2.5% of their wealth to the poor each year. This is called zakat. What is required here is specific and mandated. In Protestantism, a belief in love is considered sufficient.

Hearing about Ramadan, I felt a little envious and a little uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because it is so different to life in a Protestant community and envious because it speaks of great dedication and commitment.

What would happen if all Uniting Church members were required to read the Bible for one hour a day during the season of Lent?

In the Uniting Church, we invite and encourage. We rarely prescribe.

Another insight struck me - the importance of hospitality. Muslims display great generosity in this season of Ramadan. They ask people from many faiths or no faith to share in their Iftar meals.

I will be attending an Iftar meal hosted by the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed in June.

Our most sacred Christian festival is Easter. We don’t, however, have a custom of inviting people from other faiths to share in a celebratory meal.

Perhaps we should.

Could we invite others to Tenebrae?

Our Dialogue is a small example of what happens when people of different faiths meet in a safe space, characterised by respect, understanding and curiosity.

When we gather together and listen, there is so much to learn and so much to rejoice in.

I hold onto such moments whenever I hear distressing news, such as recently from Manchester.

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