Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interfaith Communication and Friendships

Yesterday evening I attended an Iftar Dinner organised by the Turquoise Harmony Institute, a Turkish Muslim organisation that follows the teachings of the Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.  The Institute works very hard at creating goood relations between people of different Faiths and the Iftar Dinner, the breaking of the fast after sunset during Ramadan is one of the methods it uses.

The Guest Speaker was  Professor Scott Alexander.  He is an Associate Professor of Islam, Director, Catholic-Muslim Studies A.B., Harvard University; M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Columbia University. Dr. Alexander is based at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.  His teaching and research interests include medieval Muslim sectarianism, the mystical traditions of Muslim spirituality, Quranic studies, and the history and future of Muslim-Christian relations and interfaith dialogue.
One thing he said stuck in my mind.  We so often make assumptions of other religions based on our own
religious and cultural background.  As a Catholic I immediately assume that fasting is a penitential exercise most closely associated with Lent and would naturally assume the Ramadan is a Muslim equivalent but it is not.  The fasting during the hours of light at Ramadan is purely to concentrate on the relationship with God and the breaking of the fast in the evening is celebrates with family and community a time of joy culminating in the feast of Eid al Fitr.  In a discussion afterwards he pointed out the error of thinking of "Friday as the Muslim Sabbath".  Any Orthodox Jew hearing that would immediately assume that Muslims do no work on a Friday!
It was a pleasant enjoyable occasion and unlike many interfaith functions everyone was extremely friendly!

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