Why It Matters Even More to Love Our Muslim Neighbors This Ramadan
May 5th, 2020 | April Karli
by Madelynn Marlow
As we enter the fifth week of Easter in the Church calendar, we know that this Easter season is markedly different from the rest. Instead of gathering in homes and chapels to celebrate Holy Week with our church communities, we observed from home. Some of us celebrated with the bustle of family and little ones nearby, some observed in the familiar quiet of their apartment. Liturgies took place through the glow of screens with faces of dear friends near but also so far. For the seventh Sunday in a row, we continue to participate in Liturgy, small groups, and meetups online despite our growing sense of Zoom fatigue. Things feel different, weird, and somewhat upside down, and we find ourselves longing for normal.
Although solitude and contemplation are important practices in the season of Lent and Easter, the practice of neighboring and communing with loved ones is equally important. The felt holiness of Easter is often bolstered by the physical presence of our families and communities that we now lack. And for our Muslim brothers and sisters, Ramadan is no different.
What is Ramadan?
This season of Ramadan began on April 24th. It is a period of fasting, prayer, and charity that lasts thirty days. In these thirty days, Muslims are required to fast from food and water from sunrise to sunset, unless ill or traveling. It is a time when Muslims set the intention of removing physical distractions to remind them of their need for God’s presence and provision.
Everyday during Ramadan, Muslims break fast with friends and family over a meal known as Iftar at sunset. Iftar is one of the most special parts of Ramadan- it’s a time when one can experience community around the shared practice of breaking fast over a meal together. Many of my favorite memories with friends, both in the U.S. and Turkey, have been around a table enjoying Iftar together.
Many Muslims experience a similar ache to practice Ramadan with their communities that Christians experienced during Lent and Easter. Instead of inviting friends and family over for Iftar, Muslims too must communicate with families through the glow of a screen, checking in and sending their blessings and love from a distance.
While we may think that, like for us this Easter, this is the first Ramadan in isolation for many Muslims, the reality is that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters have experienced Ramadans like this one before. In the US, our Muslim neighbors are here as international students, immigrants, or refugees. They are well acquainted with the ache that accompanies prolonged distance from loved ones, especially during holidays. Many are also used to breaking fast in the absence of the call to prayer ringing through the streets and must cultivate more discipline to be mindful of the times to pray, fast, and break fast. They are used to iftars alone or away from their family and friends celebrating back home.
Grief & Empathy
Muslim designer, writer, photographer, and mother Aiysha Malik touches on the familiar grief of this time as well as the opportunity it provides for heightened empathy.
“It is okay to grieve the Ramadan of your past, pre-isolation life. It’s okay to miss the gatherings, the camaraderie and that feeling of blessed togetherness that permeates this month. Miss it all, acknowledge the absence and try not to distract yourself away from it. This feeling has something deep to teach you, and that thing is empathy.
As your heart hurts from being separated from your fellow believers, remember, in every Ramadan after this one, the countless people in your community, in your neighbourhood, who feel the exact same way – the newcomers, the parents of young children, the vulnerable, those who have just come to Islam and those finding their way back to it. Vow never again to let a Ramadan pass without reaching out and widening your own circle.”
Her words hold truth for all of us, Muslim and Christian alike. It’s okay and normal to grieve our lives before isolation. We can respond to this ache by allowing it to teach us empathy for our neighbors who are used to this loneliness and longing for home, for familiarity. We can also challenge ourselves and our community to reach out and widen our circles, like Malik encourages us to do.
With this is mind, I would like to offer a few tangible ways we can practically love our Muslim neighbors during this time.
How to Love our Muslim Neighbors
Wish them a happy Ramadan
As I participated in the Easter Liturgy online via Zoom, my phone was flooded with texts from several of my closest Muslim friends wishing me and my family a happy Easter. It meant so much to me that they not only remembered that this was a holiday special to me but that they took the time to wish me a happy Easter as well. Although a small gesture, being mindful of this holiday and wishing your friends well during Ramadan can be a meaningful way to show you are thinking about them and that you care.
Bring food for them to eat at Sahur (morning meal) or Iftar (evening meal)
Sometimes meal prep during Ramadan can be difficult, especially if you are hungry from fasting all day. One way Christians can love their Muslim neighbors right now is through safely preparing a meal and delivering it to their Muslim friends. Reach out to your Muslim neighbors and ask them what food you can contribute to their Iftar or Sahur. Make sure that your ingredients are halal, and if you are unsure what this means, ask your Muslim friends what kind of meats or ingredients they are not allowed to eat and where they buy their groceries from. Ask for permission to bring them food and take proper safety precautions, such as thoroughly washing your hands and wearing a face mask, before delivering it to their home.
Join them in prayer
Apart from fasting, Muslims also practice prayer during Ramadan. Like Christians, Muslims pray daily throughout the day; however, they are asked to pray more specifically during Ramadan for forgiveness and mercy for personal and collective sin as well as prayers of praise for God’s goodness. These values are beautifully shared between Muslims and Christians; therefore, we can join them in praying specifically to God for mercy during these times and praising God for his presence among us, even in times of loneliness and confusion.
We can also offer to pray for our Muslim neighbors during this time. By reaching out and asking our Muslim friends how we can specifically pray for them and with them during this time, we not only communicate a posture of compassion and empathy, we commune with them in their prayers as well. This is also a great way to find out if there is a need you can offer to meet for them during this time.
These difficult and confusing times make it all the easier to turn inward and continue to overlook our neighbors on the margins. However, as Christians it always has been and always will be our call to faithfully continue the practice of neighboring. Although the aforementioned practices are small ways we can extend care to our Muslim neighbors right now, they are ulimately directed at unifying and rooting us in the Christian and Muslim practices of hospitality, compassion, and responsive service.
Ramadan Mubarak, friends! Remember to check on your Muslim friends and neighbors this month. Reach out to Madelynn Marlow at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to find more ways you can love and serve the Muslim community in Austin during quarantine.