Islamic Society of Greater Worcester(ISGW) Holds Fourth Annual Interfaith Iftar
By Tahir Ali

Worcester :  The Fourth Annual Interfaith Iftar was organized and moderated by  Dr Saleem Khanani, Chairman Interfaith Committee of ISGW.  The prayer hall was packed with the members of the three Abrahamic faiths.

Shaikh Hussam Al-Jawi  recited two verses from the Qur'an in his melodious voice, that were translated by Dr Saleem Khanani:  “Rest assured that Believers (Muslims), Jews, Christians and Sabians - whoever believes in Allah and the last day and perform good deeds - will be rewarded by their Rabb; they will have nothing to fear or to regret”  ( Sura Al-baqarah: verse 62)

C all people to the Way of your Rabb with wisdom and best advice, and reason with them, if you have to, in the most courteous manner: for your Rabb knows best who strays from His Way and He knows best who is rightly guided.  ( Sura An-Nahl; verse 125) 

Amjad Bhatti , President ISGW, welcomed the guests and said that he felt grateful and encouraged by their presence and participation.  He added, “Interfaith is playing a big role in linking communities, building love and compassion in the world of mistrust.”

The event revolved around the topic of “Fasting” and its connotation in the three religions.  Rabbi Valerie Cohen of Beth Israel Temple in Worcester explained what it meant to be fasting according to the Torah and Talmud.  Rev. Jarrett Allebach of Grace Presbyterian Church explained fasting as it appears in the Bible.   Asima Silva, a member of ISGW since she was a child explained the rituals of Fasting and the significance of the holy month of Ramadan.

Rabbi Valerie Cohen  quoted from the Second Temple literature: “a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless.”  The Rabbi elaborated: “Include some kind of prayer and repentance to make the fasting meaningful.”  There appear to be many similarities between the Jewish and Muslim traditions. For example, fasting becomes obligatory at the age of 13, said Cohen.  The age of fasting in Islam coincides with puberty and before this age children are gradually exposed to fasting for a few hours in both Judaic and Islamic traditions.

The Rabbi pointed out that preserving life was more important highlighting the fact in an example: If a pregnant women who was fasting felt weak and fainting she is allowed to even eat pork if survival depended on that.  Pregnant and nursing women can choose not to fast in Islam as well.

However, she mentioned that the study of Torah is of greater importance than fasting, and she quoted from (Ta’an. 11a-b) to justify the action, therefore, “a scholar has no right to fast because, in doing so, he decreases the work of heaven.”

Besides the major official fixed day fast, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Rabbi talked about the private fast also, like the anniversary of a parent’s or teacher’s death. So your first meal is with your spouse, the groom and the bride fast on their wedding day until the ceremony. “That’s why my wedding was in the morning,” she said jokingly.

Rev. Jarrett Allebach , Minister, Grace Presbyterian Church, classified fasting in four contrasts: Normal & Abnormal - Together & Alone - Inside & Outside - Full & Hungry

The reverend elaborated by quoting from the Gospel.

Normal and Abnormal: 

Jesus in gospel of Matthew: "when you fast..." - not specific parameters given but expectation is set that this is a regular practice.  Adam and Eve, inhabited a place of abundance and satisfaction yet were expelled because of their sin, living in hunger and deprivation. 

Together & Alone: 

Christians fast together as a church.

Jesus Christ commends fasting that is seen only by God. "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others…. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. - Matthew 6:16-18

Inside and outside: 

 Fasting that is seen by God is an internal reality. You can fast (abstain from food/water) without fasting. Fasting is an inner reality of seeking God that you can missives when the externals are in place. 

 Outside: However, fasting must accompany a pursuit of righteousness otherwise it is empty. 

Full and Hungry: 

Full:  Fasting is not done to attain a standing with God or make oneself acceptable to God.  When the Christian fasts, it is with knowledge that he or she is fully accepted by God with nothing to prove.

Hungry: A Christian fasts, hungry for God. Seeking a deeper repentance and experience of God. A Christian fasts longing for this world to come all the more under God's influence.  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness."  Matthew 5

Asima Silva  said, “One-fourth of the people in the world will fast in this holy month of Ramadan, including 8 million in the United States.” She proudly announced that she was the first student in the Sunday class here (ISGW). “Ramadan is not only important to us because it's a pillar of Islam and a time for self-assessment, it is sacred because the books of God were revealed in this month.” She referred to a narration from Waathilah ibn Al-Aqsa, that Prophet SAW said, "The Books of Ibrahim (Abraham) were sent down on the first night of Ramadan, The Torah on the sixth night of Ramadan, the Gospel on the thirteenth night of Ramadan, and the Qur'an on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.” 

The  Q&A session - moderated by Dr Saleem Khanani and his son  Noman Khanani -  was lively, inculcated and interactive.  One of the significances of fasting that stemmed from a comment from one of the guests was answered by Dr Khanani, “It is meaningless if you fast and do not take care of people around you.” Sister  Simera Majeed asked if there was any make over fast (when missed). Rabbi Valerie responded in the negative. One of the guests applauded this effort and asked: “Are there any other Mosques who do this? So much peace lies here.”  Noman Khanani, in response to a question said, “Fasting is not only about abstaining from food, it is about feeling others’ hunger, feeling how people cope with hunger.”   Allen of Israel Beth Temple, who Dr Khanani recognized as the co-founder of this interfaith group, explained the concept of ‘Passover’ in terms of fasting. One member of the audience, highly impressed by the gathering, commented on the current climate of Islamophobia. He was interested in knowing what could be done to promote the idea that we are compatible. Noman explained that there was no compulsion in Islam. He noted the fact that in Muslim Spain the right hand man of the ruling Caliph was a Christian or a Jew.  “Education is the key to deter extremism. These people are not coming to the Mosques to become extremists. They are getting that on-line. Coming to the Mosques is a lesser trend for them.” Noman added, “Extremists hate people like us.”

Pervez Majeed , trustee ISGW, thanked the organizers and speakers for making the event successful.  Informal discussions continued during Iftar/Dinner. Lisa Mosczynski was recognized as the Caucus chair for Bernie Sanders. Noman Khanani and Homaira Naseem were elected as National delegates in this district. Asima Silva also joined ranks with the Muslim delegates in representing the Muslim community both in Islam and in local and national politics. 

I concur with Noman: anyone eves-dropping and looking for extremists in the Mosques is wasting their time and tax-payers money.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.