In the last few weeks I've been inspired by a brilliant interfaith initiative started by Bassel Riche and Salmaa Elshanshory of Eid Pray Love. You may have seen it on social media and wondered what it was, you may even be taking part yourself.
In a recent piece, a guest post Muslims Observing Lent and Reading About Jesus for the Catholic paper The Tablet, I explain why there has been such such a buzz surrounding this exciting initiative:
“Lent is a time of reflection when Christians seek to reconcile themselves with God and their neighbours. This year it has also taken on a special meaning for thousands of Muslims around the world who are taking part in a solidarity initiative to fast alongside Christians.
Centred around the hashtag #Muslims4Lent, those participating have posted photos of themselves online promising to refrain from something for 40 days: chocolate, Instagram, swearing and even online shopping.
Muslims4Lent has been particularly appealing to young Muslims who want to be part of a positive movement to counter negative stereotypes and take a proactive stand against the negative events in the world which, partly or wholly, stem from religious tensions.”
Before heading off to read the rest of the piece, here's a collection of some of the motivations and reflections of co-creator Bassel Riche, as well as the heart-warming responses of several Muslims participants:
What led you take part in Muslims4Lent?
Participant Salma Taher: I decided to take part because I started to notice all Islamphobia around us, the wrong image that people got about Islam that we hate other religions and we don't want to coexist with other religions.
Participant Reem El-Agha: Besides the fact of wanting to support the awesome initiative of a friend, to me, Muslims4Lent seemed like such a simple act that I knew would speak so loudly. Intolerance has become such a big issue, so I loved that Muslims4Lent would emphasize Islam's establishment of tolerance.
How have people in your local community responded to Muslims4Lent?
Co-founder Bassel Riche: The local community has warmly embraced the Muslims4Lent initiative, they are all very excited about the reception it has received. I feel almost all of my friends have participated personally and have expressed personal support and pride at how this has turned into a global movement to show the respect Muslims have of our Christian brothers & sisters.
Salma: Some were shocked , some where really excited to see if u would last or not, and some of my coworkers who are Christians decided to participate in lent because I decided to do it
Reem: The reactions have been incredibly positive! I've received so much admiration from people of all religions.
What have been your favourite #Muslims4Lent moments so far?
Bassel: Seeing all the tweets and facebook posts from Muslims and Christians alike has been extremely heart warming, but my favorite moments are two fold, 1. The Christians that have been so moved by our initiative that they in turn have discussed participating in a Christians4Ramadan campaign. 2. The private messages from people that have never met a Muslims but have seen/read articles about Muslims4Lent.
Despite having negative exposure through media they have reached out to have a dialogue which was one of the high hopes for this initiative. We want to be open and accessible to people that may want to ask questions about Islam and our faith, when we put ourselves out there it breaks the invisible barriers that negative stereotypes create, the more dialogue we can have the more people will reject the notion that we are different.
Salma: It's so hard for me to answer this question, because all the media coverage and the awesome feedback from the community is amazing and very overwhelming that finally we are seeing some positive feedback towards the muslim community
Reem: Simply being able to tell those around me who observe Lent that I'm also taking part in their 40 days of fasting. It has brought up so many topics of discussion that end up displaying the similarities between their beliefs and the teachings of Islam.
Has anything particularly moved you?
Bassel: The way this imitative has taken off has shown me that people are eager for clear efforts that jump over the imaginary dividing lines we create between people of faith or differing cultures. Reading blog posts about people that I've never met being extremely touched by the Muslims4Lent initiative. Hearing people share stories about how after posting their Lent solidarity sacrifice picture, it has caused people to approach them and ask questions about Islam and wanting to counter the islamaphobic message that is rampant in the media.
What has surprised you about Muslims4Lent and its impact?
Bassel: I said to a friend when the campaign first launched, "I'll be happy when someone I don't know nor have asked personally to participate posts a picture" I am surprised by all of this, I never thought this would spread so rapidly and be embraced by so many. There will always be extreme people that want to drive a wedge between people, the reaction to Muslims4Lent is that the majority of people want to see the good in each other. With continued efforts, and by constantly pushing in a public way for interfaith dialogue and positive action I believe we can take away the spotlight that the extremists have hijacked and shine it on the majority of every day people that want to live together in peace and harmony!
Salma: People's feedback and reaction to this event really took me by surprise with the rise of all the craziness in the news and the world, people still saw the good we are trying to do, they are finally seeing the good in the 99% who practice Islam right.
Reem: Definitely the way people reacted to this initiative as a whole. A simple act can truly make a big difference. It has reinforced my belief that positivity is powerful and only goes on to breed more positivity.
You can find out more about this inspiring initiative in features by The Huffington Post and The Independent, as well as articles in French and Italian.
Are you taking part in Muslims4Lent? How has it impacted you this month?