Courageous Acts of Hope in Ramadan

Columban Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator Mauricio Silva explains how he's witnessed interfaith friendships flourish this Ramadan in Birmingham.

As it has been widely acknowledged, the current violence in Israel and Gaza has had an impact on interfaith networks and friendships across the globe. The facts seem to show that many statements (or even the lack of them), as well as expressions of solidarity with either side, instead of helping, have inadvertently, in most cases, exerted more polarization and division. Over the past six months, we have witnessed how faith and civic leaders have agonised over how to strike the right tone when addressing this horrendous and painful tragedy. But where big statements and words fail, actions by people of goodwill can succeed.

We are approaching the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which strict fasting is observed from dawn to sunset. Over the past decade, this month has become a hectic time for interfaith initiatives, as community Iftar meals, the meal shared by Muslims at sunset to break their fast, have flourished. These meals are usually hosted by mosques and Muslim organisations to reach out to the wider community and spread the message of peace and harmony, which is at the soul of Islam.

Despite the current tensions among communities, many mosques went ahead and organised these Iftars, once again inviting members of other faiths and civic authorities to take part in them. On the last Sunday of Ramadan, a local Mosque in Sparkbrook, Birmingham hosted what they called a ‘Unity Iftar’ and included in their programme a speaker from the Jewish community who came along with a delegation from the synagogue. This act of friendship and goodwill reciprocated the courage and boldness of that same group of Jewish people who, earlier in Ramadan, had hosted a large group of Muslims in their synagogue for what they called the ‘Shabbath Iftar’.

That evening, it was most moving to see Muslim friends, from Shia and Sunni traditions, reciting their Iftar Du’as together inside the Synagogue’s Sanctuary. Jewish representatives expressed their sorrow for the suffering inflicted on innocent Palestinian Christians and Muslims following the attacks on October 7th 2023. Most of us there were moved to tears to hear a Muslim representative imploring God’s mercy upon the Jewish victims of the attack and pleading for an end to the violence inflicted upon innocent victims from all backgrounds.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for these Jewish or Muslim friends to cross the threshold of each other’s places of worship, and to host each other with empathy at these tricky times. But they did it, and I believe they will continue to do so. I would also like to believe that those indispensable acts of empathy among grieving peoples are the fruit of the interfaith work carried out all year round by people of different faiths who believe that seeking together our common humanity is the core of our belief in God.

Some people have criticized interfaith activities as meaningless and incapable of addressing real issues dealing with the challenges of diversity. I wish these critics would have witnessed with us these courageous acts of hope by Muslims and Jews this Ramadan in Birmingham.

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