One of the great social media, and real world, initiatives this year was #Muslims4Lent. It was started by Bassel Riche and Salmaa Elshanshory of Eid. Pray. Love. to encourage Muslims to identify with Christians who were fasting and to promote the important message that Muslims are not a problem in society, nor do they have a problem with other religions.
#Muslims4Lent was also prompted by Christians sharing in Ramadan fasting, an increasing occurrence with more mixing between people of different faiths in our diverse societies. In fact this mixing and sharing is also growing through the use of social media, encouraging inter faith interactivity for those who live in places which are not diverse, including online communities like Facebook, especially the ChristianMuslim Forum.
It was only a small step from this to come up with the idea of #Christians4Ramadan. I wasn’t the first to coin the phrase but I think I was, for a change, one of the ‘early adopters’. This could invite the cynical response, “You’re not going to change the world ‘one hashtag at a time’”. However, I believe that this is how things are going to change as we normalise the kind of positive behaviour that inter faith organisations have been trying to promote for a long time.
Goosebumps seeing that many christians were inspired by the muslims movement #Muslims4Lent & now on #Christians4Ramadan SUPERB by both!— NathaLFC (@natha25K) June 20, 2015
#Christians4Ramadan is moving. It's so beautiful to see different faiths put aside their differences and come together in solidarity. 🙏🏽— Iman A. (@aveiman) June 20, 2015
I recognise that people might have questions about #Christians4Ramadan, for some this will be along the lines of - why you would put chalk and cheese on the same plate? Surely Christians and Muslims are naturally opposed to each other, even explicitly defined against each other in terms of theological positions? Others, perhaps more hatefully, will say that #Christians4Ramadan is like #Turkeys4Christmas (or Thanksgiving), with their doomsday predictions of a ‘Caliphate’ taking over Western lives. This is exactly why we should do it, not because of these reasons, but to challenge them.
#Muslims4Lent is immeasurably more Islamic than the so-called ‘Islamic State’. It’s easily tested too. You can see how positively Muslims responded to the idea of sharing in a time of religious observance and spiritual discipline with Christian sisters and brothers. Likewise, there is real joy amongst our Muslim friends and neighbours when they see, or hear of, Christians sharing in Ramadan with them. And, to allay another suspicion, they are not saying, as some who promote the ‘creeping Shari’ah’ outlook suggest, ‘now you’ve joined in the fasting you should join our religion’.
It’s natural in a mixed society for people to mix in different, interesting and unexpected ways. Our societies are just beginning to mix as we encounter each other in public spaces, including online, which for some people offers interaction possibilities that are not available to them in the real world. I will be aiming to share and explain #Christians4Ramadan in the coming weeks, highlighting that while its focus may be fasting it can also include regular reading of the Qur’an or observing daily prayers.
Happily, #Christians4Ramadan is not an isolated development. In the run-up to Ramadan (starting next week as I write) we are also mobilising support for The Big Iftar (Twitter: @TheBigIftar). I am very grateful to have been asked to join the Big Iftar’s social media team, publicising news of iftars around the UK, and possibly other countries. It is not a coincidence that I am on the team, another example of #Christians4Ramadan. Hopefully there will be a specific Big Iftar blog in this series.
The most recent development is another initiative which I am calling #30days. One of my Muslim friends is unable to fast as it causes health problems. I am committing to fast during Ramadan for three days on her behalf. Others have done the same and we now have pledges for 21 days. I will be marking the moment we reach the target of 30 days by letting her know, if she doesn’t already from social media, that her fasting is covered this year.
The organisers of The Big Iftar and I hope that all of this leads to the normalisation of Ramadan and lived Islam in Britain and further afield. While I don’t wish to see the commercialisation of Ramadan, as we have seen with Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter I do hope that British people will begin to see Ramadan as a British festival.
Julian Bond is the Former Director of the Christian Muslim Forum, currently working in Methodist Publishing, previously seconded to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Initiative in Christian-Muslim Relations for two years from the Inland Revenue. Has engaged with the Muslim community around the country while also encouraging Christians to meet with Muslims both through the Christian Muslim Forum and as a member of the Methodist Church - member of The Square, Dunstable and previously District Inter Faith Advisor for Bedfordshire, Essex and Herts.
Julian is a Theology graduate from the University of Aberystwyth and is keen to encourage wider dialogue with, and 'translate' religious ideas for, the non-religious. His passion is for committed friendship and collaboration between Christians and Muslims.Currently writing a short book on 'Jesus our Role Model'.
Previous Interfaith Ramadan post by Julian Bond in 2014 - A Ramadan of Firsts