Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Looking Back on Interfaith Ramadan 2014

The response to Interfaith Ramadan has been phenomenal this year. The positive comments, encouragement, and support that I, and the Interfaith Ramadan contributors, have received has been overwhelming. Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and commenting on the series. It's been such a pleasure to get to know new faces and observe new friendships being made as the series progressed. I was touched by the sheer number of private comments and emails I received from people wanting to share their stories and experience of interfaith and their happiness that there are others out there who share their passion. These heartfelt messages were a real blessing for me this Ramadan.

I'm incredibly thankful to the Interfaith Ramadan writers who were willing to put aside precious time from their busy schedules to produce beautiful and inspiring works for others to enjoy. This series was such a source of inspiration for me this Ramadan, they encouraged me, lifted my spirits when I felt down, and motivated me to keep going throughout the month.

Several writers wrote inspiring pieces about interfaith as a lifestyle and described how it had influenced them and their beliefs from childhood into adulthood. Carmen Ibrahim explored the spaces in between our comfortable faith bubble and the world beyond it. Sister Lucy offered her global experiences of interfaith in Monasticism Meets Islam. Others explained how their involvement in interfaith strengthened their personal faith with their own tradition, including Salvation Army officer Nick Coke's piece Interfaith Engagement is a Lifestyle and Charlotte Dando's Are you Open to New Light? which looked at interfaith from a Quaker perspective.

It was wonderful to hear stories from members of Interfaith families, including Susan Katz Miller's vibrant experience of interfaith in Senegal, Solsikke's experience of Being a Christian married to an atheist, and Stephanie Meade intensely personal journey as she finds her way in Ramadan as a non-Muslim.   

There were several articles which focused specifically on the act of fasting. Samra Hussain, as the mother of four young children, shared her expectations and concerns as a mom before Ramadan began and, when we caught up with her afterwards, she thanked all the Interfaith Ramadan readers who had given encouragement and kept her in their thoughts and prayers over the month.

It was fascinating to hear stories of fasting in other traditions, from Leanna's First Fast as a Baha'i when she was a teen to Crystal S. Lewis's exploration of fasting and reflection within the Christian tradition through her discussion of Isaiah 58.

This month was also a time when people joined in fasting as an act of solidarity with Muslims around the world. Among the new faces I encountered this Ramadan, I was delighted to discover Rose Virginia Butler and share her inspiring story and her solidarity fast in One day of Pagan RamadanThis Ramadan was also noteworthy because it was the first time in decades that the fast of Tammuz 17 coincided with Ramadan. Many Jews and Muslims used this opportunity to come together in solidarity to support communities and individuals currently facing oppression or suffering persecution. Many found Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's heartfelt message The Walls Begin to Fall on her blog The Velveteen Rabbi particularly helpful during this time of reflection. 

In the spirit of greater community cohesion, there were a large number of informal interfaith iftars this year as well as brilliant events organised by The Big Iftar and Ramadan Tent Project. Dr Andrew Smith shared his experience of an intimate interfaith meal with friends and Julian Bond spoke of a Ramadan of Firsts where Lambeth Palace hosted its first iftar with speakers including Archbishop Justin Welby and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra.

Alongside these beautiful personal stories, there were challenging articles by Jeremy Rodell (Why the faithful need secularism) and Jim Steele (Religious Labels: Constructive or Constrictive? written in response to Should we label children according to their parents' beliefs?), which explored the problems of interfaith when it collides with the raising of children and state education. Similarly, Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried tackled the practicalities of interfaith when it comes finance and the inclusion of 'minority' faiths in Do you believe in Interfaith? 

Several writers offered detailed insights into Islamic terms and concepts. Author Qasim Rashid adapted a chapter of his best-selling book Extremist as a critique against the awful actions of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region in A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don't Speak For Islam. Farouk A. Peru explored the word islam itself in Other Faiths or Other Paths?  Zaaynab-Le’Von presented various ways in which people of faith can deepen their imaan in Believing is Seeing. Nusrat AbdurRahman looked at the beauty of fajr in Making a case for 'Ramadan Muslims'. And, in her second article for Interfaith Ramadan, Crystal S. Lewis offered insightful commentary on Women's Rights in Christianity and Islam. And finally, Maryam Din offered a powerful piece on LGBTQ Muslims and the importance of visibility in The Balancing Act of Being A Queer Muslim.

It was a privilege to be approached and interviewed by newspapers, magazines and blogs who wanted to promote positive interfaith stories this Ramadan, including The Guardian's What is it like to be a Muslim in Britain today? and Pinksky magazine's kind words in What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan?  The warm and friendly interviews with Lucinda Borkett-Jones of Christian Today and Vicki Garlock of Faith Seeker Kids were particularly fun. It was an unexpected surprise to be featured in the Pearl Daisy blog, Chesterfield Pagans Interfaith: Is There Anybody Out There? and the Christian Muslim Forum Give Peace A Chance, who kindly asked me to write their Eid Greeting this year. The support of brilliant interfaith activists and organisations like Hind Makki, OneHumanist, the Abrahamic Forum, Interfaith Families DC, and the Woolf Institute, was greatly appreciated throughout the month.

My heartfelt thanks to family and friends with special thanks to Peter, Johnny, Julian, Joseph, and Estelle for their constant support and sage wisdom. To Colin and Tauseef who were prepared to drop what they were doing at a moment's notice to proof read at an unearthly hour in the morning! Thank you to Mariam and Esha for their adorable loveliness. And my sincere thanks to Jami, Kristina, Maryam, Sarah, Brenda, and Emilia for their encouragement throughout the month. And a special thank you to all the readers who shared Interfaith Ramadan on social media and helped to promote it this year.

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for Interfaith pieces throughout the year and for Interfaith Ramadan next year. If you'd like to be involved, please get in touch.

Wishing you all a lovely, peaceful Summer,


Saturday, 2 August 2014

How Was Ramadan? | Catching Up with Samra Hussain

Ramadan is all done for 2014. As it approached, I felt happy, I felt excited, but I also felt nervous and and scared. I worried about losing my temper with my children and about how hungry and thirsty I would feel during the long summer fasts.

I wrote in detail about my challenges and fears in an earlier post before Ramadan: Concerns of a Mom As Ramadan Approaches. Some of the readers got back to me through comments on Sarah Ager’s blog, while others on my own Facebook and Twitter account. Every one of those people, regardless of their faith or beliefs wished me well and hoped for a smooth and blessed fasting experience.

Samra Hussain

And tonight, as I sit here reflecting about my Ramadan experience, I am first of all filled with love and gratefulness towards all those people who both openly and in their hearts wished me well during Ramadan, because I truly believe that it was because of your kind thoughts and prayers that Allah Most Merciful indeed blessed my Ramadan.

My previous Ramadan was a much more difficult experience than this time. Last year, I had many moments of feeling light headed and feeling jittery and hypoglycemic. But this year, I felt barely any of that. In fact, I remember going through the first day of fasting wondering how it was possible that I was feeling so healthy. I did have a few moments of feeling hungry or thirsty but they were mostly fleeting and not even close to being unbearable. It was as if God radiated special love and attention on me. I felt unworthy and sometimes wondered if it was even okay to feel alert and active while fasting.

As Ramadan carried on, each and every day, I marveled and gave thanks to God for making me feel healthy and bright enough to fast and take care of my family. And each and every day I remembered to pray for the people who prayed for me and my family.

I am still amazed at how much I was able to accomplish while fasting. My husband and I had placed our four young children at a summer camp from Mondays to Fridays. My husband also mostly worked from home during Ramadan which was another HUGE blessing for our family. We were able to rest a bit after dropping them, then we completed errands and I prepared the meals for breaking the fast.

For the first two weeks of Ramadan, I had also enrolled two of my sons in daily swimming lessons after camp. It was really hectic after camp, when we brought the children home, fed them light snacks and then I drove the two boys for their lessons. I bathed them at the recreation centre showers then fed them at a bench outside, finally taking them home for bed time. Meanwhile, my husband cared for the other two children, bathing and feeding them so that by the time I got home with the boys all the kids were bathed, fed and ready for bed. Once the kids went to bed we would crash on the couch for a bit. Sitting there as I paid attention to my body, I realized that I was not as exhausted as I should have been, which was a miracle. It was really nice to break our fasts in peace and then perform our prayers and engage in extra acts of worship such as reciting Quran, calling on God’s names (known as ‘dhikr’), extra ritual prayers (salat), or watching/reading religious material.

It was an interesting and eventful Ramadan, because during the first week, my mother in law went through a knee replacement surgery, and then during the second week, first one of my sons caught a throat infection and had to go on antibiotics, and then at the end of that week another one of my sons had an accident at his camp. He was climbing up the steps of a slide, when he fell forward and hit his mouth really hard on the metal steps. When I got to camp to pick him up, I saw his swollen lip and his front two teeth were bent inwards. Terribly worried, I called our dentist, who told me to first take him to the hospital emergency room to get examined. 

Thankfully my husband was able to pick up the other children from camp on time, take them home and care for them. I was also grateful when the doctor determined that he had no internal injuries and just needed to see the dentist about his bent teeth. The next morning, I took him with a heavy heart to the dentist and paced the waiting room while the dentist removed the fractured portion of his teeth. My family was blessed a million times in that the roots of his teeth were still intact, which is why there was minimal pain as the dentist removed the snapped portion of his teeth.

In addition to visiting my mother in law who was in extreme pain from her surgery (and still is in a lot of pain) and picking up and dropping off the children and dealing with the injuries and sickness, I had to deal with my temper around the children. Although I was able to clamp down on my desire to get angry when they did outrageous and dangerous things better than usual, there were still many moments when I had my outbursts. 

At times I felt so crushed and overwhelmed by my children’s dependence on me that I would forget that they are still newbies at life on Earth. But every time I did lose my cool, I would feel immediate regret along with despair over my inability to stay calm and composed at all times. After all, fating is not just about refraining from food drink. It is also refraining from giving in to our ego and mood swings. Sometimes I wonder if any of my fasts are even accepted by God. I hope God forgives me for the times I lost control over my temper around the children.

My every moment of regret and plea for God’s forgiveness was met with the realization that we are all interconnected and that everything good, including raising children to be healthy adults, is achieved through dedication, kindness, cooperation, and self-sacrifice.

So thank you to everyone who prayed for me and my family this Ramadan. I wish and pray for all of you to feel God’s peace in your lives. I wish and pray for all humanity to feel God’s peace in their lives. Ameen! 

★ ★ ★

Samra Hussain is a stay at home mom. Her passions include reading and writing. In her free time she likes to write for her interfaith blog while also working on her teen fiction novel for girls. She can be found at her blog For the Love of God and you can follow her on TwitterMake sure you keep an eye out for Samra's debrief once Ramadan is over to see how she got on.

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