God, you are our Creator.
You are good and your mercy knows no bounds.
To you arises the praise of every creature.
God, you have given us an inner law by which we must live.
To do your will is our task.
To follow your ways is to know peace of heart.
To you we offer our homage…
Ramadan is the Muslim month of fasting. Muslims are to abstain from food, drink and sexual activity from dawn until dusk for an entire month. The discipline is very demanding, especially when it falls during the long, hot, thirsty days of summer. However, there is some respite. It is considered one of the mercies of God that Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, so advances about ten days every year, passing through the entire solar calendar every 36 years or so, which means that it falls in autumn, winter and spring too.
Fasting during Ramadan is undertaken gladly by Muslims as an act of devotion to God. It also reminds those who fast of the hardships that the poor endure, so it is an occasion for giving alms and working for justice. In the evenings, families and friends gather for iftar meals to break the fast the moment the sun sets, so the month is also an occasion for hospitality, for restoring relationships that may have frayed over the year and for strengthening the bonds of affection that unite people. And it is a time of extra devotions, of prayers, scripture reading and other spiritual exercises.
One year in Lahore we decided to invite the Muslim families in our street to come to the Columban house for an iftar meal. The old man from across the road came in his dressing gown, which was a sign to me of how much he felt “at home” in our house. In conversation he mentioned that it was his birthday, so we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
Our guests expressed surprise that we Christians were hosting them for an iftar. They said it was their rite and that they should be offering hospitality to us. Sure enough, next week they invited us (and the others in the street) to their homes for iftar meals.
Up until that time, the people in our street all lived independently, each of us going about our own business, exchanging greetings when our paths crossed, but with no real engagement with each other. However, during Ramadan that year, as Christians and Muslims entered each others’ homes and shared food and drink and conversation, our street became a neighborhood.
I am delighted that in recent years it has become a custom for Muslims to invite people from other faiths to join them for iftar meals. These events may be large public functions with dignitaries and guests of honor. They may be select guests invited to the more domestic setting of a private home. Whether large or small, this sharing of food and drink between Muslims and believers of other faiths and none, with the conversations that accompany it, is a wonderful way to break down the walls of suspicion that often divide us and to build friendship and mutual understanding.