Today’s guest blogger is Gail Rosseau, MD, is a neurosurgeon from Chicago, Illinois. She and her family are engaged in building interfaith cooperation through her work with the Social Justice Committee at Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and the Amazing Faiths project; she is a Trustee of Dominican University and a member of the Board of Directors of Interfaith Youth Core.
This may not be the call to action you would expect from a lifelong Catholic.
But, there is a tradition of fasting in all the world’s major religions. Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do so. St. Paul urged early Christians to do the same. Moses, Elijah and the Buddha all fasted. Luther, Wellesley and Gandhi fasted as well, and their followers continue the practice to this day.
Indeed, there is evidence of communal fasting prior to recorded history. Fasting has long been considered a healing force, a way to connect one’s spirit to the sacred. It is also a way to connect the members of a community to one another. The Lenten sacrifices of my Christian childhood, and the Yom Kippur fasting of my Jewish friends, brought families and communities together in common devotion, seeking to understand our role in the world and to glimpse the divine.
As one of the 5 pillars of the Muslim faith, fasting during Ramadan is expected in Islam. Yet the personal motivation to fast given by one of my colleagues, Nigerian neurosurgeon Muhammed Mahmud, still resonates.
“You can talk about poverty all you want, but being poor means being hungry, and an empty stomach gets your attention like nothing else does,” he explained. “We Muslims think the world will be a better, kinder place if all of us spend a month each year feeling, really FEELING, in our bellies, what it is like to be poor.”
His words spoke to me. I believe they would speak to most people, of most religions. His words ring equally true to all the secular humanists I know.
Imagine, for a moment, what it would mean if every adult American, more than 225 million of us, gave up one lunch during Ramadan: at $5/lunch this would raise $1.25 billion. The savings could be donated to the church, synagogue, mosque or charity of your choice.
Or, multiply those five dollars by 30 days in the month, and America could end world hunger. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that it would cost $30 billion/year to launch the necessary programs that would prevent global food insecurity and put an end to hunger for the nearly 1 billion people worldwide afflicted by severe hunger each year. Imagine the change in geopolitics if a huge American interfaith fast each year wiped hunger off the face of the earth.
The faith divide threatens to be the most divisive and dangerous issue of our times. In Manhattan, a battle rages over a plan to build the Cordoba house complex near ground zero, with strange bedfellows including the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Palin coming together to oppose it. In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a fight ensued over plans to convert a health food store purchased by Muslim physician, Dr. Mansoor Mirza, to a mosque. In Temecula, California, members of a local Tea Party group interrupted Friday prayers at a mosque in protest of plans to build a new Muslim center on nearby property.
All around the country, fundamental questions regarding citizenship and religious freedom are being reconsidered, in ways that resonate differently with Americans since September 11, 2001. Now, more than ever, we need to reaffirm the common ideals of our American democratic way of life. We need to look for the practices and rituals that give meaning and purpose to our lives, and to celebrate those traditions we share with those of other faiths. We need to demonstrate that the world’s melting pot is stronger and more generous than ever, precisely because of our ethnic and religious diversity.
True understanding comes from shared experience. This year during Ramadan, let’s consider reaffirming our common spiritual heritage by embracing the discipline and the spiritual concentration that skipping a lunch, or 30 lunches, would require. This shared experience with the Muslim community, here and abroad, could go a longer way toward ending our serious, and often violent, interfaith struggles than any effort to date. And maybe we could begin to eliminate world hunger along the way.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.