For Non-Muslims, Fasting and Iftar Offer Connection and Reflection
When was the last time you participated in something sacred with 1.5 billion people? The thought of that may sound exciting or possibly a little daunting, but I can tell you it is enlightening and deeply rewarding.
I am referring to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink during daytime hours as they heighten their focus on spiritual rejuvenation.
Why Fasting Matters in the Muslim Tradition
Fasting during Ramadan is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam, and it may also include fasting from gossip, smoking, fighting, and other activities that can discourage our spiritual growth. The meal served at sundown during Ramadan is called iftar, which means “breaking the fast.” Iftars often are festive community gatherings open to all, held in an effort to bridge divides across faith traditions.
“This is an important time for those who participate in Ramadan to share their tradition with friends from different backgrounds,” says Eyyup Esen, director of the Kansas City branch of the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest.
“It is truly a special time when people of all backgrounds come together and share in the iftar experience. People of other religions, such as Christians, may regain an appreciation and deeper understanding of similar practices in their own faith traditions.”
What It Means to Join an Interfaith Ramadan Fast
For the past several years, I have joined with more than a billion others in observing this holy month of fasting and self-reflection in my own way by helping to create, present, and celebrate the evening meal with many families and organizations.
"Ramadan offers a time to ‘purify' our bodies as well as our souls, by developing a greater sense of humility, spirituality and community," said Mahnaz Shabbir, community advisor for the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and Crescent Peace Society. "[At Ramadan], there’s a greater sense of generosity and forgiveness, and it's a time for spiritual renewal. I feel closest to Allah (God) during this time and grow in my faith."
I have cohosted multiple iftars throughout Kansas City—with police departments, universities, churches, and retail establishments, to name a few. What I have learned is a great deal more than I could have imagined, and it has deeply shaped my own spiritual practices. It has forever added to the clarity of my connection to a global family, and I encourage you to embrace these practices for yourself.
If you’ve ever fasted, you know the mind wanders when you're hungry and thirsty. My brain can get awfully busy with thoughts of irritation or annoyance, or it gets so distracted it’s difficult to hold my attention long enough to complete the smallest of tasks.
This can be frustrating, yet it is also an opportunity to redirect myself in the moment. For instance, I turn my attention to others who are working difficult, labor-intensive jobs, and are also fasting. In an instant I feel thankfulness wash over me. My compassion and understanding for a life that may not be as comfortable as mine is ever-present.
The Spiritual Practice of Fasting
One of the most powerful places I turn my attention to is thinking of those who do not have enough food or drink. While I have chosen to engage in a sacrifice, millions do not choose this.
Why not pause and think of the child who takes extra snacks on Friday because he knows he won’t have enough to eat throughout the weekend? Have I stopped to consider the mother who goes hungry to ensure her children have enough? When do I ignore the person on the street corner holding a sign and asking for food?
As a spiritual practice, I carry protein bars and other snacks in my car so I can offer them to someone who may be hungry. In so doing, I am reminded of our shared humanity, of the interconnectedness of all life. Perhaps you might include a spiritual practice of feeding one hungry person each day you choose to fast.
Anytime I practice fasting, I use the time to remember that a person is not just a physical body, but a soul as well, with dreams and hopes, needing love and compassion, as well as to know they belong.
Why Observing Ramadan Matters
Ramadan is a powerful symbol of unity. While it is a personal time for sacrifice, reflection, and spiritual growth, it’s also a collective time of slowing down.
“Ramadan is a chance to slow down and focus on my well-being and to celebrate with my community,” Ahsan Latif, president of Kansas City’s Crescent Peace Society said. “There are a lot of quiet moments, and honestly, a lot of time on your hands when you are not eating and not thinking about your next meal.
“I use that extra time to read, listen and learn, but also to think about what I'm doing with my life,” Latif continued. “By the end of the day when it's time to eat again, we celebrate at community gatherings. I am given It gives opportunities daily to be introspective as well as community focused, which I enjoy.”
When we abstain, we become more mindful as our bodies naturally slow down. This practice of slowing down offers opportunities to focus on our thoughts and feelings, to be thankful, and to be in service to our community. It gives us a chance to notice the generosity already alive in our world regardless of our faith traditions or spiritual practices. Gratefulness for me is saying “thank you,” and letting me show the world what it means to me.
Billions of Muslims and non-Muslims fast and then gather for a celebration meal, to honor, acknowledge, and give thanks for the richness of their lives. With them, I reflect on all the generosity given and received throughout my day because I know whatever our individual faith traditions, I can’t imagine our lives without each other.
The sacrifice, service, and humility I see the Muslim community engaging in during Ramadan brings me to the same values I hold so dearly in my own heart.