Interreligious Iftar Seminar: The Moral and Social Implications of Religious Fasting

Approximately 60 religious leaders—Muslim, Christian, Druze and Jewish—gathered at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem on August 25, 2010 to discuss the meaning of fasting and to have an iftar meal together breaking the fast of Ramadan. 

Our goal in bringing together Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian religious leaders for this special seminar was to bring about greater interreligious understanding in order to enable us to live together in peace in this land, and to get this message out to the general public in Israel via the media.

Dr. Lars Hansel, director of the KAS in Jerusalem, opened the event by welcoming the participants and talking about the many perspectives and the riches of the different religions.  One of the places where this richness can be studied is certainly in Jerusalem. He also explained that we wanted to use this opportunity of getting together during Ramadan to talk about the meaning of fasting in the different religions.

As director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), I talked about our desire, in planning this event, to celebrate together the two holidays and the two traditions – Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, Islam and Judaism.  I was pleased that this was able to happen at this event.

We were honored to have Kadi Muhammed Zibdeh, the former Kadi (judge in the Muslim courts of Israel) of Jerusalem and currently the Kadi of Jaffa, give the keynote address on the moral and social implications of the fast of Ramadan.  He began by praising Allah and thanking Him for everything. Fasting is not only worship, he explained, but also about a spiritual quality in that it emphasizes our special relationship to God.  In the Koran, it says we are inspired by God and that believers should fast.  Fasting is about being God-fearing, about demonstrating the correct virtues, and about avoiding sin.

He went on to explain that fasting teaches us restraint, self-control and self-understanding. Furthermore, fasting helps prevent us from harming others and teaches us to walk the holy path, the path of good deeds, the path of ethical personal and social behavior.

The month of Ramadan is a special time for giving charity in a systematic fashion. Since charity is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, Muslims must give money to charity during Ramadan. In fact, one is required to donate 2.5% of one’s income to charity. There is another charity – a Muslim who cannot fast because of an illness is allowed to provide a financial contribution instead.  Also, the tradition in Israel is for a man to contribute 15 NIS for each member of his family per day during the month of Ramadan to charity. These forms of charity provide for an entire social framework that provides for the needy during Ramadan.

Kadi Zibdeh concluded his presentation by explaining that all Muslims must be humble and rebuild family ties during Ramadan, must turn away from hatred and disdain, and must increase love, compassion and solidarity. This is the righteous path, the path of Ramadan. 

As our Muslim friends in Israel and around the world are in the midst of their observance of Ramadan, it was very helpful for Jews, Christians and Druze in the audience to understand more about the goals of the fast, as perceived by Muslims.

For me personally, it was fascinating to learn how much the process of fasting and repentance is similar in Judaism and Islam. Moreover, the focus on ethics and charity—which is also very much the focus of the fast in Judaism—links us with a common social consciousness towards Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Our fast will not be complete—neither on Ramadan or Yom Kippur—if we don’t do our part to make the world a better place for all of God’s children.

See also:
Jerusalem Post article about the seminar
– Reshet Bet report: Hebrew audio / English transcript

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