Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Ramadan of Firsts | Julian Bond

Iftar at London Synagogue | Credit: The Big Iftar

After twelve years working on Christian-Muslim relations (my twelfth anniversary was at the end of the first week of Ramadan) it might seem that there is little new to say. People may be aware that I spend most of my time looking for things that are new. The media too, hence my own approach, are constantly looking for new things and firsts. Sometimes, as with this Ramadan, we are surprised by things happening for the first time. And so it is that we had the first iftar (a ‘Big Iftar’) in a London synagogue this year, and another has already taken place. 

As Britain becomes more familiar with Ramadan more and more iftars are taking place which include people of other faiths, long may it continue! But there was one first which stood out for being both exceptionally welcome and unexpected. It was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, our Patron. The original suggestion came from the Big Iftar team, in fact from my colleague Zahra Imame, when we knew that we were breaking new ground, exploring iconic possibilities for Christian-hosted iftars. The Archbishop (office rather than person) has been involved in this important work for longer than I have. My son still gently parodies one of my earlier radio interviews by telephone which began with the immortal words, ‘Well … it all started with Archbishop Carey …’

Successive Archbishops have been great friends of the Muslim community, highlighted especially in the relationship between Archbishop Justin and our Co-Chair Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra. They demonstrated this publicly when responding as leaders of both our faiths to the tragic murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013. Celebrating these connections, amongst times of difficulty, as we celebrated the end of the day’s fasting and spiritual disciplines was a key moment. As Archbishops and staff have changed over the years we had to consult a previous colleague to establish that this was, in fact, not only the first Lambeth Palace iftar but its first ever Ramadan-related event.

The Archbishop also provided the place and the opportunity for the Christian Muslim Forum’s work over the last eight years to be celebrated through the presence of members and associates old and new, as well as well-respected senior leaders and representatives of the Muslim communities. It is a tribute to Forum’s values and ethos that our friends were describing it as a family reunion!

Ramadan is, of course, as is often emphasised, a time of prayer and peace. The Archbishop in a brief welcome and reflection before we broke the fast highlighted his own particular interest in reconciliation.

Speaking before the breaking of the fast, Archbishop Justin expressed his appreciation for the good relations that Christians and Muslims enjoy in the UK, and spoke of the need of people of different faiths to stand together against the backdrop of terrible violence and suffering, particularly in the Middle East.

“There is much that we need to talk about, and much that we can work on together; but tonight is about celebrating the importance of our friendships,” he said. {from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website}

The Archbishop then commended us all to God. He was followed by Shaykh Ibrahim who challenged us to see the real meaning of Ramadan as more than fasting, rather spiritual refreshment and reconnection to God. Both led us in heartfelt prayers for peace, forgiveness and strengthening of relationships between people of both faiths.

One thing (of many!) that our two faiths have in common is prayer. It is surely right that we should pray with and for each other, perhaps especially at Ramadan with its extra focus on prayer and the living out of the life of prayer. Christians can pray that Muslims experience fully all the blessings of Ramadan and feel themselves closer to God. Likewise Muslims can pray for blessings and peace for their Christian neighbours, whether here in the UK or in troubled places around the world. Let’s get with the spirit of Ramadan, a time of generosity amongst the fasting, of love, devotion to God and hospitality. Ramadan is a Muslim season but we can all appreciate, more so as we get closer to those who observe it and share in it with them.

Julian Bond
Christian Muslim Forum

Previous Interfaith Ramadan Post: 
A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don't Speak For Islam | Qasim Rashid

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