Brian McLaren, the great Christian writer and activist, called me up a few weeks ago with a remarkable request: Would I be his fasting partner during Ramadan? He explained to me that there was a long-held Christian tradition of fasting, although it is not practiced much in contemporary Christian communities. Brian’s goal was to live more fully into that Christian tradition during Ramadan, while also feeling solidarity with Muslim communities.
There are a number of Christians Brian knows who are doing this. As he writes in his blog: “We, as Christians, humbly seek to join Muslims in this observance of Ramadan as a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness. Each of us will have at least one Muslim friend who will serve as our partner in the fast. These friends welcome us in the same spirit of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.”
Then I heard that many of the non-Muslim FaithsAct Fellows (a joint program of the Interfaith Youth Core and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation), are fasting together. That is truly remarkable. These young people are currently on an interfaith fellowship in Africa, working with Christians and Muslims in health clinics that prevent and treat malaria.
In his beautiful video message on Ramadan, President Obama spoke of the particular Muslim practice of Ramadan (the additional nightly prayers, the belief that this is the month when the Qur’an was revealed), but also of the common tradition of fasting across religions – how it is meant to bring us closer to God, and to remind us of those who cannot take their next meal for granted.
Shaykh Hamza told me during our conversation, “Eboo, the walls are falling, the barriers are breaking.” I hope so. I hope this interfaith solidarity during Ramadan is a sign of the times. I pray that we are moving towards a world in which people are rooted in their own traditions but find dimensions to admire and learn from in others, that Ramadan is a time during which people from a variety of backgrounds come together in the common purpose of growing closer to God and one another. That is the heart of Islam, of all of our faiths and traditions.
(Read my NPR piece on Ramadan)