Ramadan is drawing near and Muslims are readying themselves for the long fasts and the nights of feasting, or Iftar. Many non-Muslims, however, continue to be baffled by this holiday and some even fear it.
I recall a conversation with an acquaintance last Ramadan, one that impressed on me how much we don’t understand one another, the chasm of fear and misunderstanding that separates us from “the other.”
I was out shopping before stores closed for Shabbat when I happened upon her. I asked how she was doing, engaging in a normal, polite conversation.
She replied that she had a headache and then proceeded to tell me how she suffers greatly each time this holiday arrives. “Muslims cause the spiritual atmosphere to be heavy with their prayers,” she said.
I asked her if she ever thought to pray and fast with them. She strongly disagreed, writing me off as one of those liberals with whom she simply could not see eye to eye.
I left the store very troubled by her statement, which “othered” a whole group of people whom she could blame for all of her miseries in the coming month.
The conversation caused me to flash back a few years, to a time when I had the privilege to work alongside many Muslims who were both warm-hearted and profound. We would celebrate Ramadan, breaking the fast together with a joyous time of food and laughter.
They taught me about a beautiful side of Islam, even trying to convince me to convert, sometimes in jest and other times seriously, because they considered me a friend and wanted me to understand. I quickly realized that much of what I knew about Islam was wrong. I had been raised with such an ignorant view of Muslims.
While I never considered converting, my love for them deepened as my understanding grew. I realized that there is no reason that their religious practices should be disrespected, hated or feared. That’s not the way of love that I know I am called to walk in.
On the contrary, as part of walking according to love, I choose to see this Ramadan as an opportunity to be a blessing rather than further the growing hostility that too many express towards its adherents.
I also intend to seek new ways to understand my Muslim neighbors and sacrifice for them while they fast. Will you join me? Even if it’s a small sacrifice, I believe it’s a step towards genuinely loving our neighbor.