(This article appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal during Ramadan in 2013. As Ramadan approaches, this is a good time to reflect on what his holy time means to our Muslim neighbors and the contributions they make to a Compassionate Winston-Salem.)
Moses fasted on the mountain when he received the Ten Commandments. Jesus fasted in the wilderness during 40 days of temptation. The Prophet Muhammad fasted in a cave when the Quran was revealed to him. Ancient Hindu sages fasted as they carried their message across India.
Followers of most major religions and many modern-day secularists recognize the value of the discipline of fasting by abstaining from food, drink and various activities. For Muslims, fasting is a sacred practice that cleanses the whole being, a time of growing closer to God by avoiding not only food and drink but also emotions like anger and envy. Fasting is one of five pillars of Islam, which also include the creed “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”; five daily prayers; charity; and pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslims fast from dawn to sunset daily during the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan, which this year spans mid-July through mid-August. Throughout Ramadan, Muslims intensify their practices of worship, personal reformation and charitable giving. They balance the individual act of fasting with a communal breaking of the fast each evening at their mosque. The end of Ramadan often brings mixed feelings: joy for renewal of the spirit and sadness for losing the greater closeness of community. As the Quran says, devotions on one night in this month are “better than a thousand months of worship.”
This summer, three local Muslim worship centers — the Community Mosque and Masjid Al-Mu’minun in Winston-Salem and the Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons — are collaborating with Interfaith Winston-Salem to sponsor “Fast With Us So Others May Eat” during Ramadan. Non-Muslims are invited to learn more about fasting in their own traditions and to fast one day, a week or the entire month.
During Ramadan, Muslims place added emphasis on helping other people. In offering “Fast With Us So Others May Eat,” they encourage the community to join them in supporting the Second Harvest Food Bank by collecting nonperishable foods and contributing to the BackPacks program, which provides nutritious meals to children each weekend of the school year.
We often focus on differences between our traditions. Fasting is a practice that can bring us together. It’s a discipline open to all healthy individuals. At the same time that we practice this self-discipline, we remind ourselves of the needs of other people and do what we can to help them.
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan during Eid al-Fitr, the “festival of the breaking of the fast.” Eid al-Fitr will be observed around Aug. 18 this year. Those who participate in “Fast With Us So Others May Eat” are invited to bring their food-bank collections to one of the mosques on this day and join their Muslim neighbors in helping reduce hunger in Winston-Salem.
A 2011 study by the Food Research and Action Center ranked Winston-Salem first in the nation for families struggling to provide food for their children, and another study revealed that one in four children in North Carolina under the age of 18 is at risk of hunger. These statistics were supported by the USDA, which said North Carolina and Louisiana lead the nation in the percentage of children under the age of five who are food insecure on a regular basis.
There is no doubt that having nutritious foods on a regular basis will give children the building blocks for a healthier and more fulfilling life, physically, mentally and socially. It’s for the sake of each child as well as the sake of the entire community that we’re introducing “Fast With Us So Others May Eat.”
Leaders of Interfaith Winston-Salem hope to work with members of Christian and Jewish traditions to invite the full community to address other needs during Christmas and Passover.
Our vision is a community where everyone understands and respects the traditions of their neighbors, both religious and non-religious.
In many ways, “Fast With Us So Others May Eat” is a test. It’s a test for Interfaith Winston-Salem in its first public venture, and it’s a test for members of Winston-Salem’s three mosques, who are stepping into a visible leadership role in addressing hunger. But, most of all, it’s an opportunity for the people of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. We hope our neighbors will join us in translating a common practice like fasting and a common value like helping the needy into an uncommon good — a healthier and more peaceable community.
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