Fasting is an act of worship, a historic tradition and a test of obedience and holiness. Fasting deepens one’s connection to God. It encourages charity and care for the poor. And those who fast are helped to remember the blessings of life.
Members of two faiths shared those and other thoughts on fasting at a rare gathering Tuesday evening in Lynwood, USA. After the sun was down, the event ended with a sumptuous meal where Muslims and Jews joined together for the breaking of their ritual fasts.
“Breaking bread is an amazing tradition. People who eat together cannot be angry with each other,” said Ata Karim, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greater Seattle, which hosted the event at its Ahmadiyya Muslim Center in Lynnwood.
Called “Two Faiths, One God,” the gathering recognized Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and the Jewish fast of Tisha B’av.
This was the second year for the gathering. A year ago, when the Jewish fast day also coincided with Ramadan, Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue hosted the gathering. And Tuesday night, members of that Reform Jewish community traveled to Lynnwood to be welcomed at the Muslim center.
“Last year, when we met at the temple, we all felt so welcome,” said Irfan Chaudhry, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greater Seattle. “It is something we will always cherish,” he said in welcoming remarks Tuesday.
Muslims fast from dawn until sundown during Ramadan, which this year began July 9 and will end Aug. 7. The annual Jewish fast day Tisha B’av — the ninth day of “Av,” or the fifth month — is a day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of ancient temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies that have befallen Jewish people.
Both Karim and Rabbi James Mirel of Temple B’nai Torah spoke about fasting to those gathered Tuesday, and were joined in sharing their thoughts by young people from both communities. There were also readings from The Torah, known to Christians as The Old Testament, and The Holy Quran.
“Fasting is cleansing and purifying of our souls, a source of many blessings,” said Shujah Sial, who represented Muslim youth. “To me, it is more than starving myself. It changes my outlook on life.”
Lauren Balter, 24, a leader of the Jewish young adults’ group Jconnect Seattle, also spoke about fasting and bridging differences. “People fear and attack the unknown. This is a profound learning opportunity,” she said. Balter added that having observed one-day fasts as part of her Jewish faith, “I can’t imagine how I would fare during Ramadan.”
Men and women listened, prayed and later dined in separate rooms at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Center. The speakers were at a table and podium in the men’s area, and a TV monitor brought their words and images to a room where women and girls listened.
It is unusual for Ramadan and the Jewish fast day to be at the same time frame.
“It is wonderful when these two occasions coincide. It happens only once every 10 or 11 years,” Rabbi Mirel said. Speaking about last year’s Jewish and Muslim gathering to break their fasts, Mirel said “I don’t know if it was the first time in history, but I felt it was very historic.”
“Some years, Ramadan is in the winter,” said Mona Saad, of Redmond, who moved from Pakistan two years ago. Her husband works in the computer industry. She explained that fasting during daylight hours is mandatory for Muslims 18 and older, but that their children try to observe half-day fasts.
When the sun had set and the Muslims had finished praying — one of five daily prayers and supplications their faith requires — it was after 9 p.m. It was time to break the fasts.
Dates and almonds were the first foods brought from the kitchen. Men had spent much of the day preparing the meal, served on separate buffet tables in the men’s and women’s areas. Kosher chicken, mixed vegetable curry, rice, mint and yogurt chutney, mixed fruit with oranges, the bread known as naan, and other dishes and desserts were savored while hosts and guests got to know each other.
For the Muslims, many more days of fasting follow. In two months, the Jewish people will fast again for Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and repentance.
Sitting together after their meal, Karim and Mirel sat talking about their traditions.
“We have a lot of things in common,” Mirel said. “We are two faiths with one core belief, one God.”