Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Meeting Our Neighbors During Ramadan

Justin Whitaker writes a blog called American Buddhist Perspective. He has been writing about his encounter with the Muslim community during this holy month of Ramadan.  In  one of his posts last week he talked about participating in the fast which Muslims practice from dawn until dusk during Ramadan. He shares some of what he has learned and talks about why he is participating with the Muslim community. Here is an excerpt of his post:

“Why am I doing this? My first response is that as an educator I feel a certain responsibility to understand different cultures and religions as well as I can. In my studies of Buddhism I have reached out to and practiced with Buddhist groups around me when I could and spent time in predominantly Buddhist countries. Personal experience in the classroom is an invaluable tool. For over a year now I have been teaching World Religions and some of my students have made nearly literal 180° shifts in their perceptions of Islam through the course of a semester. We start every term talking about prejudices (or “preunderstandings”) around religion and the problem of America’s ignorance about religion in general. After chapters on Sikhism, Shinto, and Zoroastrianism, the students are usually pretty wide-eyed in their realization that they didn’t know as much as they had thought when they came into the class (I feel the same way every time I teach them). But these are students who have grown up in an age of the US being at war in Iraq and Afghanistan – many have served in the military and are now back trying to build a civilian life. Prejudices don’t disappear over night, but I know that whatever personal experience and fresh perspective I can bring – getting the students beyond the textbook and the daily news – will help.

There is also the issue of fresh waves of Buddhist-Muslim violence occurring in South and Southeast Asia that I have touched on and will certainly write more on later.”  (Read the entire essay here)

When I first began to attend iftar at a local mosque a few 
years ago, it was in part due to my interest in other faith practices but in large part it was with the understanding that our global community is such a reality in our daily lives these days.  People from different cultures live in much closer proximity now than in the past. Since our cultures and religions are part of the social fabric, we all need to have a better understanding of one another.  For years our local Muslim community has extended hospitality to the community at large by offering a time to visit and to learn more about their customs.  As stated in their letter of invitation:

As you are likely aware, there are many political hotspots in the Muslim world and Muslims are increasingly seen as adversaries of the West. It is not our intention to make you agree or disagree with our belief system, but simply to share with you the authentic teachings of Islam and to illustrate the true face of the more than one billion peace-loving Muslims in the world. With the events unfolding in the world each day, we believe it to be very important that the members of the Muslim community and the American public at large get to know each other better. It is only through visitation and sincere dialogue with Muslims that non-Muslims can gain a genuine understanding of the nature and specific teachings of the Islamic faith. What better way to learn about a group of people than to talk and mingle with them?

Many groups – ranging from high school and university students to churches to businesses to civic groups to government organizations – have come to our past years’ Ramadan iftar dinners. Through these visits, benefits have accrued both to us as well as to our visitors-turned-friends. Most, if not all, of our guests have left with a better understanding of our faith.

My hope is that those interested in peace and wholeness will take every opportunity to practice not just tolerance of the other, but rather a genuine appreciation of the faiths and cultural practices of others in the community. Ramadan, which this year is extending from July 9 to August 7, is one such opportunity to become better acquainted with our Muslim Neighbors.


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