Worcester: People of Abrahamic faith broke fast together at the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester(ISGW) on Laurel Street in the holy month of Ramadan. The ISGW-sponsored interfaith event drew a number of people of the Christian and Jewish faith to breakfast with the Muslim community and at the same time engage in an interfaith dialogue on 'fasting’ - a common practice among the Abrahamic religions - as it appears in Chapter 2 verse 182 in the Qur'an: “O ye who believe Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.”
The town-hall meeting style setup included community leaders sitting in a panel. Speaking on behalf of the Christians were Father John Kelley, a Parish at a nearby Catholic Church, and Father John Savard, Rector at the College of the Holy Cross. Jeremy Golding, Vice President of Beth Israel Temple, spoke on behalf of the Jewish community. Visiting scholar Dr Omar Abdullah Alaboud, and Dr Saleem Khanani, Chairman of ISGW Board of Trustees and the organizer of the interfaith dinner event, represented the Muslim community.
The Muslims observe fast in the month of Ramadan (29/30 days) during which they abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk each day for the entire month. Through fasting they learn self-restraint, discipline and do all this just to please Allah alone.
According to Judaism Tradition of Fasting: http://www.howtofast.net/spiritual/judaism.html - the website notes that ‘there are two major fast days and four minor fast days that are part of the Jewish year. The two major fasts, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, last just over twenty four hours. They begin before sundown, when it is still light outside, and end after the next sundown, when it is dark outside and three stars can be seen in the sky. This fast is absolute. The faster may not eat food, drink, brush his teeth, comb his hair, or take a bath. Minor fasts differ in their duration from a major fast. No food or drink is taken from dawn until nightfall.
Strict adherents to Judaism strictly observe each and every fasting day. Other Jews may practice modified forms of fasting. This can be abstaining from food but not water
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. As one of the most important days of the Jewish year fasting, along with prayer, is practiced as a means of repentance.
Most of the remaining fasting days focus on commemorative mourning and remembrance of important historical events.’
According to Wikipedia, fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations or other churches.
The Lenten fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert.
Imam Omar recited some verses from the Holy Qur'an that encourage interfaith dialogue on common grounds, highlight the Abrahamic connection of the three faiths and describe the unity of God.
Dr Khanani explained some of the aspects of fasting and rituals that Muslims observe during the month of Ramadan. He also pointed out that ‘the significance of this month can be ascertained from the fact that the Holy Qur'an was revealed in this month.’
Jeremy reflecting on fasting traditions said, “My sense of fasting now serves the function of reminding us the purpose of the day. Purpose of faith allows us to become a good person. In Judaism you are told what to do. Fasting is that discipline.”
Pastor John Kelley in mentioning the significance of fasting, noted; “Certain demons can be only cast out by fasting and prayer.”
Rector John Savard teaches his students to realize the spirit and sense of fasting. “I tell them that how senses become deadened and how fasting awakes them.” John told the audience that a lot of people give something up for the 40 days of Linten. “It's not easy,” he said, “ask any youngsters to give up the facebook for a few days.” He recalled one student coming up to him and telling him that he will give up soda during Linten - this boy was drinking 12 cans of soda every day. During the 40 days he just drank water. On the 41 st day, he grabbed a soda and started drinking it - he spit it out saying ‘how sweet this is’. He realized that his taste buds had been deactivated all this time.”
Dr Khanani explained the three things we try to emphasize during fasting: First, the rituals that are observed fasting during dawn to dusk. Secondly, the night prayer (Taraweeh) that is established during the month of Ramadan and thirdly giving charity throughout the month.
In a question-answer session, Dr Khanani tried to explain why the month of fasting is called Ramadan. “Ramada means hot - maybe the fasting came in extremely hot days and perhaps that’s how the month got its name.”
A person in the audience pointed out, “In Thailand where I lived for sometime the fasting was for 12 hours. I thought even that was difficult - but here in the USA it is almost 17 hours. In this heat - one can appreciate it more.”
Rashid Shaikh likened fasting to a maintenance month for cleaning a machinery that runs non-stop throughout the year.
Moderating the Q&A session Dr Khalid Sadozai, ISGW President, explained that the genius of the moon calendar is seen here as Ramadan falls in every season.
Everyone broke fast at the prescribed time. Some of the families prepared the food (Middle-Eastern and Asian cuisine) to share with everyone. Kosher food was also made available, courtesy of Maleeha Sadozai and her friends.
More than a hundred people celebrated the event and were so much delighted with the outcome that the ISGW board decided to make it an annual event.
The success of the event can be measured from a letter from John Kelley addressed to Dr Khanani: "Thanks for inviting me to share the dialogue Sunday evening. I learned a lot and enjoyed meeting so many people from different faith traditions."