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Muslims, Catholics break bread together at iftar


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Prostrated, they pray. Palms down, faces to the floor, knees folded beneath and then straightening to stand and bow, Muslims and Catholics move in time together with the supplications of sung Arabic. Then gathering at set tables, the prayer continues, “God is great. Come to prayer. God is one.” Sunset had arrived, and with it the time for iftar, or breaking fast.

On Oct. 9, Muslims shared iftar with Catholics from the Archdiocese of Chicago. The meal was an end to the daylong fasting of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food, drink (water included) and sexual relations. Hosted by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and the Islamic Society of the Northwest Suburbs, the 9th Annual Catholic Unity Ramadan Dinner was an opportunity for dialogue between the two faith traditions.

“We all belong to the family of believers in one God, and are part of the large family of Abraham,” said Quadir Hussain Khan, president of the Islamic Society of the Northwest Suburbs.

Mushtaq Darabu of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, expressed the need for people of faith to come together.

“Nowadays especially, when we see what people are doing in the name of religion—hatred is the worst thing being propagated at all levels,” Darabu said. “It’s easy to spread it, but to eradicate it is much more difficult.”

Breaking barriers and striving for a “completely united community” is more urgent and critical after Sept. 11, 2001, Kahn stressed. Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, pointed out that while American Muslims are often viewed as responsible for 9/11, the FBI did not find one lead in their investigations of them.

“Islamophobia is the new racism of our time,” Mujahid said. “Christians must challenge the only racism that is considered OK in America today.”

Cardinal George spoke of a duty to work for peace and religious freedom, striving towards an “increasingly fraternal society,” without which we ruin “the very image of God in man and woman.”

Social activist Rami Nashashibi, the executive director of the Innercity Muslim Action Network, saw the event as a way to not only recognize commonalities but also to discuss what people can do.

“We must go deep into the reservoir of spiritual traditions like Ramadan and act on them,” Nashashibi said. “We need to facilitate dialogue and understanding, to wash away the stereotypes by being part of a process to improve society. The most common denominators [of our religions] are our pathways to the divine. Our proximity to God should be reflected in to what degree we are effective in social justice endeavors.”

Muslims see taqwa, or God-consciousness, as essential for spiritual growth. This greatly “profound and elusive” awareness is made more attainable through interfaith friendship.

“Knowing one another, we will come to know God,” Nashashibi said.

Feroz Ahmed, a member of the Islamic Society of the Northwest Suburbs, finds the solution to be inherent in friendly behavior. He doesn’t feel ostracized for his faith.

“It is rare that anyone is not welcoming— my neighbors are wonderful friends of mine,” Ahmed said. “You need to define yourself, not wait for others to do that.”

Ahmed thinks that problems will inevitably arise if we judge and criticize.

“If you tell someone they have an ugly shirt, they will think your shirt is ugly too,” he said. “Only speak good or shut up. If I insult someone and they respond in a like manner, the sin is on me.”

Another vital aspect of interfaith dialogue is taking the time to learn about other religions from original sources.

“Very many of us Muslims know not only the Torah but the Bible too,” Ahmed said. “I wish other people also did that: judge a faith based on their books rather than on hearsay.”

Ahmed has read the Torah and five different translations of the Bible, and has found the same morals to be present in each religion. Khan discovered the same similarity of values when he arrived in America in the seventies.

“When I first came here to this Christian world, I thought, ‘People here are better Muslims than I am,’” said Khan. “‘You people are honest, caring and when you say something, you do it!’ You had a better adherence to our values than we did. Those core values are the same.”

Khan thinks dinner was an ideal setting for interfaith dialogue, since “food always breaks barriers.” And if there’s one thing Ahmed has learned from his scriptural studies, it is that “we all enjoy food.”

“There’s the Last Supper, the Passover meal, iftar, the multiplication of fish and bread,” Ahmed said. “So, let’s all have dinner together! And let’s not make it our last supper, but one that leads to the next.”