Sunday, 24 July 2016

Found In Translation - E.A. Sofia

This is a belated post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles are written by contributors from diverse faiths and none and are published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.

Credit: unpblog

The month of Ramadan has ended, and I’m thinking about the Qur’an, the holy book of the faith in which I was raised. There are copies of this book, in Arabic and English, on the shelf next to my other books. While I don’t consider myself a member of any organized religion, being raised in a religion with a holy text has influenced and continues to influence my life. I remember being a kid, learning to pronounce the Arabic words without knowing what they meant, and wanting very much to understand what they meant. I already loved to read, and it was important to me to know what I was reading. When I was a young child, I tried to read an English translation of the Qur’an that I still couldn’t understand, because it was an older translation. Years later, I was excited to find more recent translations and finally be able to read and understand this mysterious book that had been omnipresent in the background of my life. Partly due to this curiosity from a young age, I became fascinated with translations and their ability to improve communication.

Essential to my desire to read translations is the desire to interpret the text for myself. Even when a book was originally written in a person’s native language, there are still differences of opinion. Not being able to read the text of the Qur’an meant that I was expected to believe what it said on faith, based on the opinions of others. It was one thing to have faith in God or to have faith and hope for the future of humanity; it was quite another thing to have faith that the very human people around me (with whom I disagreed on various things) should be my only source of information about what is, after all, a very important book to a great many people and to human civilization. Having seen how much people’s views can be influenced by words, both the words within religious texts and the words in other writing, I thought it was important for these texts to be available to more people in languages we understand. I still eagerly seek out books that were originally written in other languages and have been subsequently translated.

From a secular perspective, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, there are many ways in which translation has affected society and our ability to communicate for the better. I’ve come to believe that translation is important for education and mutual understanding. There’s a lot of emphasis on what is different about us and demonization of the Other, but by hearing and reading the words of those whose languages may be different, maybe we can realize and remember how much we have in common. We learn about our fellow humans and learn new ideas, while also realizing that some ideas and feelings are so common that we will hear our own feeling repeated back in all the languages of the world. There are many people who’ve pointed out, for example, the similarities between different holy texts and analyzed various works of literature for common themes. We can read a book written by someone who lived hundreds or years ago or halfway around the world and realize that all of our experiences are part of the history of this Earth. Communication across language barriers and down the ages of humanity is what has allowed us to hear the voices of people with whom we are not able to communicate directly. It’s an amazing thing, to be able to understand words that were once indecipherable to us.

Translation and communication across language barriers is a vital skill in our small world. It allows greater access to information, as we can share vital resources and information, discoveries in various academic disciplines, and even our hobbies with people who speak different languages. Resources and information on healthcare, housing, and other social services provided in the same language that is spoken by the patient can make it easier for people to get the care that they need. In so many situations, from everyday tasks to emergencies, being able to communicate with others and being able to understand information can make a huge difference. No matter what language we may speak, we are all humans. Cooperation between people of different religious beliefs and backgrounds to improve the world can be made easier if we make the effort to understand each other.

No translation can ever be perfect, and that’s why multiple translations of classics line the shelves at libraries. Still, we gain the ability to understand, even partially, something which was once incomprehensible to us.

There is always something lost in translation, but it allows us to find at least some of what we would have lost to the dust of history without it.

E.A. Sofia is a writer and fangirl who loves to write about books, social justice, and secularism.

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Breaking Fast With Beyonce? The Dates In Ramadan - Anisa Subedar

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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Breaking Fast With Beyonce? The Dates In Ramadan - Anisa Subedar

This is the twenty-first post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.

Another Ramadan soon draws to an end.

We look for the moon and a date to signify the commencement of Ramadan. Now we look again for a moon and a date for Eid.

The other type of date of course, is the one we eat - especially during Ramadan. Why? Because it kick-starts the digestive process which has been on battery save all day. The initial rush of sugar offers both nourishment and comfort. Dates are nutritious and high in vitamins. The Quran mentions the date palm more than any other fruit bearing plant. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) frequently ate them and we all know the hadith about a house without dates is like a house with no food. I’ve even rubbed the gums of my newly born children with the fruit.

I enjoy the onset of Ramadan. The build up to the month is full of spiritual promise, intentions and hope. A bit like the resolutions made at the beginning of a new year. But often by the time you get to the last ten days, eagerly searching for the ‘Night of Power’, it feels like bittersweet endurance. An exhausted sprint to the end of a race you never quite want to end. When I get to this stage, I have to ask myself if I’ve done enough. The answer is usually no. Ramadan has come and almost gone and here is the time again for some introspection. Like a bad school report, good effort but could do better.

This Ramadan, amid the devotional fervour and well intended goals I went to five live concerts. In order, Coldplay, Guy Garvey, Wet Wet Wet, Beyonce and Burt Bacharach. Yes, I’ve opened my fast while watching bands and artists on stage. I take half a dozen dates wrapped in cling film into assorted venues and wait. Most bands take to the stage at around 8pm. This year sunset in the UK is around 9.25pm. So I wait. The first hour tends to go fairly quickly. Then I’m clock watching (something I never do at gigs) the last half an hour. It normally takes about 4 songs then I’m counting down minutes into seconds. Just once I would want the band or artist to stop and tell the audience that it’s time to eat. Have perhaps 30 seconds to acknowledge the fast. How incredible would that be? I would raise my date in thanks, read the dua and eat. It’s yet to happen but I’m hopeful. I uncover the cling film, salivating at the thought of the sugary, sweet goodness that will fill my being. I don't wish to encourage a game of ‘date trumps’ where we share the weirdest place one might break a fast but there have been moments where I have caught myself. Trust me when I tell you that after a day of fasting, the moment when you witness the change of day into night is set against the backdrop of live music is quite profound.

Make no mistake, although the practising of my faith may have a lot to be desired, I love Islam. The Muslims around me both real and online nurture and provide me with serenity, critical philosophical thinking and a spiritual nourishment. My belief, my Eemaan (Imaan - faith, described by the prophet as "a knowledge in the heart, a voicing with the tongue, and an activity with the limbs") and all that it brings is unshakeable. Yet I have to reconcile and marry this month with my love of music. Please let’s not start a debate about how sinful it is, how it negates my faith. Or and dilutes my brain and every good deed I have ever done. Music has held me together for the best part of 40 years and I anticipate it staying with me to the end. Consequently what that means it that I go to a lot of concerts. Do I stop going to watch gigs during Ramadan? No. Should it? Again, don’t judge me. I’m only doing my best right now.

The internet is rife with scary, hellfire and brimstone clad information from shouty religious types on what happens when your best isn’t good enough. The numerous blogs and videos answering questions about what to do if we haven’t read or memorised enough Quran or missed too many night prayers all pander to the inherent built in guilt-buttons that are activated with every watch and read. Ramadan is a full of composure and quietude. A month of calm, solemnity and reflection. But I also want to recognise that the day after Eid is also an opportunity to continue building. I don’t want to feel guilt or fear. I want to feel the love of Allah’s continued guidance and mercy.

Eid Mubarak!

Anisa Subedar is a freelance journalist and radio producer for the BBC. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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Green & Colourful: When Science Meets Religion - Bart Mijland

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Sunday, 3 July 2016

Green & Colourful: When Science Meets Religion - Bart Mijland

This is the twentieth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (Laudato Si’, 14)

In the summer of 2015, Pope Francis called upon the world to join the global conversation on how to shape the future of our planet in a sustainable way. He did so through his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”). In his appeal, the Pope refers to statements of his predecessors, as well as scripture and other religious sources. It is an impressive document that generated considerable impact in terms of press and responses within the Catholic church (articles, debates, conferences).

In anticipation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris, various faith groups published declarations. For example, there was a Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders that urged world leaders to “recognize and address our universal responsibility to protect the web of life for the benefit of all, now and for the future.” The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change called on all Hindus to “expand our conception of dharma. We must consider the effects of our actions not just on ourselves and those humans around us, but also on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part in ensuring that we have a functioning, abundant, and bountiful planet.” And from the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change: “We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavour and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race”.

These contributions from religious leaders to the global political debate on climate change and sustainable development are not exactly a new development. Religious groups have been part of the discussion for a long time. Therefore, it is strange to me how some still seem to believe that religion is irreconcilable with science or should be kept away from politics. The pope addresses this phenomenon in his encyclical:
I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.(Laudato Si’, 62)

As the above-mentioned texts show, other religious leaders have no problem embracing scientific insights for their understanding of the world, either. They simply add them to their religious or spiritual views and values in their respective calls for climate action:
  • Scientists assure us that limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius is technologically and economically feasible.” (Buddhist Statement)
  • We note that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNEP, 2005) and backed by over 1300 scientists from 95 countries, found that ‘overall, people have made greater changes to ecosystems in the last half of the 20th century than at any time in human history… these changes have enhanced human well-being, but have been accompanied by ever increasing degradation (of our environment).’” (Islamic Declaration)
  • Today, with the 2015 Paris Climate Conference nearly upon us, members of the global Hindu community again urge strong, meaningful action be taken, at both the international and national level, to slow and prevent climate change. Such action must be scientifically credible and historically fair[...].” (Hindu Declaration)

Surely, this must excite even the most radical science-loving atheists. It is truly in the sciences that we find common ground for sustainable coexistence. Interfaith dialogue, that includes humanists and atheists, becomes especially relevant when we consider the scientific insights we agree on as a starting point for action. We simply cannot afford to argue anymore over who is right and wrong when it comes to beliefs, truths or lack of faith. The ultimate undisputed truth has yet to reveal itself and as long as we have different interpretations of reality we must act upon the truths we do share. In that sense, and as someone who graduated on Bruno Latour, I agree with Pope Francis:

Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality. If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.” (Laudato Si’, 63)

Judgments of each other, whether based on the Vedas, the Quran or The God Delusion, become futile when you think about the final ruling Earth might have in store for all of us. If we want to postpone or even avoid humanity’s death penalty, we need to stop fighting each other for our (lack of) beliefs. In a way, you and I are foolishly staring at each other when we fight like that. We don’t clearly see what happens to the world around us. The moment you and I shift our gaze towards our common challenge, you and I immediately become a new alliance, a ‘new we’. Together we can face our problems. With scientific knowledge as our common ground and moral inspiration from various faiths and philosophies for transformation. We are the only way to keep the Earth Green & Colourful.

Bart Mijland is a humanistic scholar, pluralistic thinker and works as a knowledge broker on matters of diversity and sustainable development. He is a contributor to Dutch interfaith/ -cultural platform In addition he advises the Youth Council of COC, a leading LGBTQI organization in the Netherlands. Mijland previously wrote 
Holy Boat: Interfaith Pride for Interfaith Ramadan. 

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Related Posts: 

Laudato Si’ (2015) Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders (2015) Hindu Declaration on Climate Change (2015) Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change (2015)

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Navigating Iftars And Eid As An Interfaith Family - Kristina ElSayed

This is the nineteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.

Every holiday, after everything is said and done, the gifts are opened, the food is eaten, the decorations are away and we have settled back into daily life, I debrief with my people.

What did you love? What did you hate? What was disappointing? What was amazing? It's something I’ve been doing ever since that first year I did Magda’s workbook* about making Christmas the best ever.

I do it for birthdays, Easter, Halloween and Ramadan. Every holiday, we try to be more involved with extended family and friends, inviting them over, planning movie nights, and including them in our traditions whenever possible.

Every year, my people tell me that they wish we could have more iftars with guests. They want to be those people who are invited for dinner each week and who host friends at our house. They want that buzz of excitement that comes with celebrating with others in a comfortable, loving environment.

In the past, we’ve invited Mr & Mrs Imam and their family and they would usually have us over. Another night we would close family friends and their children. Last year we started inviting Magda and her boys.

This year, Mr & Mrs Imam don’t live nearby anymore. They moved away a few months ago. JJ and her people were all booked up and the other friend, who was part of our lives for a very long time, has broken up with us.

So, one night when we were out to dinner, before fasting began, I broached the topic. Who would we invite this year?


What about your friends Mr. Fox?
What about that other group of friends?
No, it would be too weird.
What about your Muslim friends?
Uh, No. I don’t know them that well.

Kate, want to invite anyone?
What about your one friend?

Pea, what do you think about inviting your friend and her parents?
That would be weird, Mom.
Um…What about your other friend?
They are out of town for the summer. So, No.

Khaled, how about we invite your friends?
Sigh. Okay, how about we invite ALL of my girlfriends and their people?

Iftar? Inviting people?
Oh, I don’t know.
It would be great to introduce some friends to our tradition.  Maybe they don’t really know what we do during Ramadan.
Great idea.
Can we plan it?

Ramadan begins and we have no plans except for attending the community iftars at The Little Mosque Down the Street. I’m afraid the month will pass in a sleepy, slow moving blur and we won’t have hosted anyone for dinner.

The next weekend, I ask again, and we carefully consider a few different families. No plans are made. I’m frustrated about the lack of decision-making. My family is desperate to be social butterflies…but they are social introverts. 

The second week of Ramadan passes and I ask again. We decide on a family. Khaled is friendly with the husband; Pea is friendly with one of the daughters. We go through a lot of hoops to get the phone number of the lady of the family (who I’ve never met) so I can introduce myself, issue the invitation and plan the evening. I invite Magda and her boys to come over another night, and consider making it a big dinner party with all of my girlfriends. Because of the scheduling and different snafus, the girls never got invited. 

This year, we hosted twice, we were invited out once and we’ve attended 3 of the 4 Saturdays at The Little Mosque Down the Street.

Today is day 27 of the 30 days. In 4 days, it will be Eid. We are planning on going to prayers early, seeing all the people there, praying, visiting the food trucks (food carts in the street), and spending the time at the event location for as long as possible. Sometimes we have made specific plans to leave town, other times, like this year when the Eid falls in the middle of the work week, we just go home and figure out something to do.

I’d like to make a plan to do something with other people in our community who, like us, end up celebrating alone. It’s difficult though because I don’t know who is alone. It always seems like everyone has plans. They have plans that include their friends and their families. Not us.

One of the hardest parts of being in an interfaith family, especially when your extended religious family isn’t geographically close, is that you are left to celebrate with just your nuclear family. I hope this makes sense. For us, our Muslim family members live far away. If it were an option, I’d love to travel to be with them every year on the Eid. But as it isn't possible, and we have never been able to celebrate successfully with our non-Muslim family, we just don’t.

I will continue to debrief each year with my people, asking what they liked, what they loves, what they hated and what we should change. I hope that maybe, by continuing to do this each year they will be able to help craft our Ramadan into something delightfully special. Something that gives them memories that they will pass on to their children and traditions they will want to continue long after I’m gone.

Kristina ElSayed is a mother of three, a wife, jeweler, writer, and creator of The Wudu Cling.  She creates empowerment jewelry for people of all faiths and spiritual paths at VianneFere and writes about raising Muslim children as a non-Muslim parent.  You can read more at My Islamic Life and AltMuslimah. Kristina can be reached through her website or on twitter @myislamiclife

Kristina previously wrote Fasting For Faith, contributed to What Can I Do If I'm Not Fasting? and The Side Entrance of Religion

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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Interfaith Progressions Toward Peace and Understanding Through Music and Marriage - Sarah E. Amick

This is the eighteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

What does “interfaith” mean to you?  Hopefully, and especially if you’re a regular reader of the Interfaith Ramadan series, it has positive connotations.  The word “interfaith” certainly invokes positive thoughts and feelings for me now, just as it has for a long time.  However, its depth of meaning and importance has grown exponentially for me in recent years.  For this, I am incredibly grateful, and have many people to thank.
Growing up in a Protestant Christian family, in predominantly Christian environments, and attending mostly Baptist churches, my first “interfaith” experiences are more accurately described as interdenominational.  It seemed like a big deal 20 years ago for members of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other churches (even Catholic!), to come together to form a community choir in the small WV town where I went to high school.  Somehow it happened, though, and it was wonderful.  
When I went away to college, I encountered more people of other religious backgrounds, though still mostly Christian denominations.  I always looked forward to the annual Interfaith Week, in which the various campus ministries worked together to create joint events, which were often musical programs.  The most significant interfaith event I attended during college was a conference in Washington, DC around 2000-2001.  I distinctly remember a session on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in which I first learned of the similarities among the three Abrahamic faiths. We sang a beautiful interfaith song, and I could truly feel my heart and mind opening. I have no doubt that my experiences during that conference had a tremendous impact on me and my future views on interfaith connection and cooperation.
It wasn’t until after college, and a few years after moving to Richmond, that I began to have more broad and diverse encounters with people of other faiths and beliefs.  I again joined an interdenominational community choir, and this one happened to also be intentionally interracial and intercultural.  Even though I am no longer a member, I am thrilled that One Voice Chorus (@OneVoiceRVA) is still proudly “singing the beauty and power of diversity.”  A few years and a few Religious Studies courses later, I came across the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond (@ICGR_RVA).  By this time, I had several close friends of various backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, and was excited about the possibility of being able to form additional interfaith and intercultural connections.  

The first ICGR event I attended was the RVA Peace Festival (@RVA_Peace).  I had become increasingly concerned about the ongoing violence in our world, and was inspired by the history and mission of this event.  I was convinced, and still am, that interfaith and intercultural respect, understanding, and cooperation can help bring true and lasting peace to all.  As you may have noticed by now, music is an important and influential part of my life.  One of the many things I love about the RVA Peace Festival is the diverse musical and artistic entertainment it showcases.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to assist with this portion of the event last year, and am excited about what we have planned for this year’s Peace Festival!
Speaking of incredible interfaith and intercultural events, the ICGR Interfaith Benefit Concert for Love and Unity in May was the highlight of my year so far!  In the opening Dance of Universal Peace, led by a Sufi Universal worship leader, we sang “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” which reminded me of that conference session on the Abrahamic faiths that I mentioned earlier.  With everything from Jewish mysticism, meditative jazz and guitar music, to a lively gospel choir and an audience sing-along to “Imagine” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” it was truly an interfaith celebration of music, dance, peace, and harmony!   
Richmond really is quite diverse in many ways, and I am so thankful for the amazing new friendships I have developed with co-workers, students, choir members, ICGR members, and many others over the past 10 years here.  One such friend is particularly special to me, as he is now my husband!  You can read a little about him, as well as my favorite interfaith love story book, in my post on author J. Dana Trent’s (@jdanatrent) blog Interfaith Inspiration: A Baptist-Muslim Love Story. Our personal interfaith story is another blog post in itself, but since this is the Interfaith Ramadan series, I would just like to mention how inspiring it is to experience Ramadan with him.  l have learned so much about Islam, devotion, and commitment over the past couple of years, especially during this holy month.  Thanks to him, “interfaith” for me now carries with it a deeper meaning of shared life and love.  
All of my interfaith and intercultural encounters, experiences, friendships, and relationships (including, but certainly not limited to, my interfaith marriage) have helped me to more fully see and appreciate the importance of respect, understanding, and cooperation.  I believe these types of positive, loving, unifying thoughts and feelings can be practiced and put into action with everyone we encounter, especially those who may seem different from us.  It’s not always easy, but from what I’ve learned about Ramadan, now is the perfect time to try!   

Sarah E. Amick AlZubi received her B.A. in English from the University of Mary Washington (@UMaryWash) in 2003. She and her husband live in Richmond, VA where they both work and study at Virginia Commonwealth University (@VCU). Sarah has over 15 years of work experience in public and academic libraries. She is pursuing a degree in Religious Studies, and has also taken courses in International Social Justice Studies, Intercultural Communication, and Arabic (@WorldStudiesVCU). Sarah enjoys singing in the choir at Richmond’s First Baptist Church (@FBCRichmond), ringing in the First Ringers hand bell choir, attending cultural festivals and events, visiting museums and gardens, and traveling. You can find her supporting peace, interfaith, and intercultural education on Twitter at @seamickaz.

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Transcending The Politics Of Parents In An Interfaith Classroom - Betsy Markman

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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Transcending The Politics Of Parents In An Interfaith Classroom - Betsy Markman

This is the seventeenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Credit: Betsy Markman

I teach English as a Second Language in a United States middle school. My students are between 11 and 15, and they come from all over the world: China, Uganda, Rwanda, Poland, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iran, Chile, Somalia, Mexico, Iraq, Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq and Israel. Generally, there is more peace and cooperation than you might expect from a group of pre-teens and young teens. Every once in a while, the politics of their parents or homelands invades the classroom, but usually in small, controllable bursts.

Two years ago, a new girl arrived from Israel. An Iraqi 6th grader announced, "I hate Israel!" and I talked to her outside class about why she felt that way, and how she could leave those inherited opinions at home.

When I brought that same 6th grader to science class for the first time and asked if there were any students who could help her in class and show her to her next class. The girl who raised her hand and waved eagerly was wearing a hijab. I asked her name and and where she was from. She gave her name and proudly said, "Palestine!" When I saw the Israeli girl a few periods later, I asked how science and geography were.  She excitedly told me that she had a new friend, and named the Palestinian girl.  Really?  "Yes! We both like math and we both picked dance class for gym!"

Fast-forward a year and a half.  This year, we had a few more issues.  The issues between the high school Arabs and Kurds threatened to come to the middle school, but the students rose to the occasion and kept the issues away from school. There were other problems among groups of students, but far more over 6th graders using the word "crazy" than international tensions.

In the spring, we had an international celebration at school, and each national or regional group had a table to display their artifacts, show their slideshows, play their music, and display the posters they created.  The one Vietnamese student was with the three Chinese students.  The students from Mexico, Chile and Venezuela shared a table, as did all the students from Africa.  And the two Israeli students shared a long table with the five students from Iraq.

On the first day, the Iraqi student in native dress, who has the job of "tall person" for his class, helped hang all the posters that needed space at the top of the wall as we weren't allowed to tape, glue, or tack anything onto the windows of the library office. No issues with hanging the flags and posters of Sudan and Uganda, but when it came to the posters created by an Israeli boy, he turned around and told me there was a problem. I braced myself. "Miss. Is no plastic staples in my box. I need new box."

Oh, that! I handed him a new box of push-pins and all was good.

The two groups sat and stood side by side throughout the week, and were delighted to find that both groups had artwork on the table that included a hand, both languages were written in the same direction and included a few similar letters and numbers, both had similar climates, and some kids from both countries had moms wearing head-coverings come to the celebration.

May we and they never forget what they learned that week.

Betsy Markman has been an educator for 26 years, involved in kindergarten and adult ESL, bilingual, and refugee education for most of them, along with part time Jewish education. Betsy previously wrote “She’s Just Using You!”: Interfaith Anecdotes for Interfaith Ramadan

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On Belonging - Wasi Daniju 

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Unity Over Tea: Understanding Oneness Through Openness - Greta

Friday, 24 June 2016

On Belonging - Wasi Daniju

This is the sixteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Credit: Wasi Daniju

“this glib-gabbit, mony-littit tongue            “this slippery, many-coloured tongue
snacks at identity as tho hit wis                 snaps at identity as though it were
a gollach piecie sappit wi                      an insect morsel lathered with
the sweet-n-soor o BELONG”                  the sweet and sour of BELONG”
    Visa Wedding #1                                       Visa Wedding #2

                    Harry Giles

Growing up, I lived between two very different households - one with my parents, in which Islam and Nigerian traditions co-existed; the other with my English foster parents, paid by my parents as full-time nannies in a private fostering arrangement. My foster parents practiced no religion, but were always respectful and affirming of our own.  

I’ve always considered myself a proud South-Londoner - I lived on an estate in Brixton, went to a comprehensive primary school just around the corner from home, and knew Brixton mosque before it existed (my dad was one of the founders).  But I actually spent the majority of my childhood in a small town in Kent where I attended a somewhat different primary school, set in the shadow of the town Castle, and later went on to the girls’ grammar, the only black girl throughout my 7 years in the school.  As I divided my life between these two worlds, I learnt to be the definition of adaptable, a chameleon making the appropriate changes to blend into whichever environment I found myself in - I even spoke with different accents (and eventually different languages) between my two homes.  

When it came to my practice of Islam, earlier life was simple - given that my weeks were spent in Kent, my only interaction with other Muslims was at our local mosque at the weekend, and of course, other Muslim family members.  As such, anything we did at home and in our community was the only Islam I knew, whether that was sitting reading surahs (Qur'an verses) and hadith (words attributed to the Prophet) with my dad after fajr, or going out to parties celebrating births, birthdays and marriage, with all of the reveling that entailed.  It never occurred to me that not all Muslims lived as we did and that there could be different Islams to the one I knew - this was the 90s, so there was no Google, and until I got to Uni, no such thing as the internet at all.

Pre-university, my two homes and two very different environments set me up for what was at times a confusing but fairly proficiently managed double life.  At home in London I attended madrassah, learning Arabic and memorising verses of the Quran. In Kent, I learnt RP, joined my first choir, and was introduced to stand-up comedy.  Travelling between the two locations, I exchanged one personality for another, often longing for some permanence, but generally accepting that was the way things were, and I was simply destined to always be a little in-between.  It often felt as though, no matter how well I seemed to fit into each place, I never really belonged in either. 

I expected university to offer the chance to reconcile what I thought of as my two identities; instead, without the delineation of those two selves by geography, I found they collided within me, and I began a struggle to determine who I really was.  I started to question which parts of my lifestyle fit with being Muslim, and my introduction to the university’s Islamic Society added to my trepidation, convincing me that certain things I did (praying salaat, wearing hijab, not going to the pub) made me a ‘good Muslim’, while others (having male friends, listening to music, being somewhat inclined to profanity) did not make the grade.  Used to a friendship group made up entirely of non-Muslims, and with the judgement that I felt came from the Muslims I was now meeting, I chose to stay away from Muslim spaces at uni.

But of course, it wasn’t quite that clear cut.  At school, my faith had never really played any kind of active role - except perhaps for that time me and a couple of friends skipped assembly and hid in our classroom’s book cupboard; when we were discovered we told the teacher it was because I was fasting, and it was cooler in there... On the whole, my faith was fairly invisible until I got to university, started wearing hijab, and had to contend with all the questions and assumptions that came along with that.  Even well-intentioned friends felt at ease telling me they thought organised religion made no sense - not helpful, as I grappled with making sense of my faith myself.

Wasi's Mum and Foster Mum 

In the years to follow, as I explored Islam more (mainly through meeting more and various Muslims), I discovered many different iterations, and my own practise evolved in fits and starts.  I swung from tradition to (self-described) heresy, back and forth, and sometimes around and around, as I attempted to incorporate different learning and my gradually and relentlessly widening world-view.  And throughout my transformations, there was this constant worry of being judged - a worry that I was not quite Muslim enough for the Muslims I encountered, and far too ‘religious’ for those who didn’t share my faith.  I always felt certain parts of me needed to be kept concealed, different depending on the group I was in.  For the most part, I am now far more self-assured in my self and my beliefs, (supported by so many Muslims - post first year ISOC experience!) and with that my fear of judgement has abated somewhat, though my questioning of my personal faith, and what it actually means, continues.

Throughout my growth and development as a Muslim, my life choices took me to may different places - I completed 4 degrees in 5 different places (including a couple years in Belgium), and moved for work a few times.  In each new city, I was forced to start over, and in searching for some kind of community, I would seek the local mosque and try to become a part of the congregation.  Again and again, though, I found it difficult to find a mosque that I felt comfortable in.  In some cases, it was the usual sisters-as-second-class-citizens feel - I remember once in a mosque the lights being turned off as myself and a few other sisters prayed; not a deliberate sabotage, but there just being no idea there were women there, as we were hidden away behind a curtain.  In other cases, practicality meant I was unable to really integrate into new congregations - I’d have work or class during juma’at, and taraweehs were too late for me to attend.  As such, I spent a number of years experiencing mainly solitary Ramadans, homesick for family suhoors and community iftars and night prayers. 

Once I finally moved back to London, I realised that actually my Islam had moved on from that of my family’s mosque, so that even if I had this potential community to fall back into, in actual fact, it was no longer really one I felt I belonged to. Once again, I found myself unmosqued, with no regular place to attend for worship and community. Things weren’t as lonely as before, though, as I found groups, such as Wisdom in Nature (an ecology group I was part of for a number of years) and Rumi’s Cave (Muslim community centre) where at least I felt my Islam was understood and completely accepted.  I no longer felt like the different parts of my life made me some kind of mongrel or even strange - however I practised, it felt OK in these arenas.  

Early last year, a request from the Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) to come photograph their inclusive juma’at (Friday prayers) led to what felt like some kind of coming home.  The group did exactly what its name suggested - I felt a really active inclusivity, an intentional openness and acceptance that fostered that same feeling in me. The liberation of feeling I could come to this space and be completely myself, with all my various beliefs and behaviour, was massively liberating, and remains so. The only thing still missing is an actual mosque, and the constancy that this could bring.

For now, then, my permanency and the space in which I can be fully myself comes from a few very good Muslim friends, including my siblings. This freer faith is bolstered by infrequent but still heart-strengthening contact with IMI and Rumi’s Cave, and contact with certain Muslim folk on twitter (e.g. Zaynab Shahar and others). I’ve gotten to a place where I feel much more like one self, and am continuing to grow in confidence in my own interpretation of faith. The only thing still missing, though, is a constant community linked to a mosque. After years of being a bit of a loner, more than just a part of a community, I’d like to be part of a congregation.

Wasi with friends

Wasi Daniju is a counsellor and a photographer, and one of those people that sings all the time.  She has a penchant for hanging out in libraries, and bringing disparate groups of people together, normally via the medium of picnics.  You can find her photos on 500px and flickr, and can catch her (mainly retweeting) on Twitter.

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Interfaith Ramadan Vignettes From Around The World

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Interfaith Ramadan Vignettes From Around The World

This is the fifteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

My mother in law, who is Catholic, is so involved with our Ramadan celebration. From buying the best dates to helping read Ramadan stories to kids. She was even excited to see the Ramadan moon. She helped me with a Tree of Good deeds, where we write things the good deeds we did for every day of Ramadan. She has even told the kids to decorate her house for Ramadan/Eid. We will be doing that for Eid. Ramadan is a great time for finding similarities and connections between our religions. She talks about the fasts of Jesus (PBUH) and how being mindful is a Christian belief too. Her acceptance has made Ramadan so much richer. She is a truly amazing human. I love her so much.

Sabina Khan-Ibarra

Yesterday with a group of my friends, we made a meal for the most vulnerable and homeless in our town. The meal was served at the Baptist Church to about 60 people with more meals packed for them to takeaway. Three fasting women and 5 fasting children serving food to non-Muslims. At the end of which my friends turned to me and said "can we do this again?"  A real honour and something that gave us all a sense of unity and friendship. It very much reminded me of Al- Muam "[1-7] Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away the food of the poor. Then woe to the praying ones, who are careless of their Prayer, who do good to be seen,and withhold small kindnesses (from the people)".

It was also a privilege today to go and speak to a group of Theology students about my faith. It was very much a "conversation" about me as a Muslim, how I viewed the world, and the impact my faith has on my life. I love these interactive sessions as it gives me the opportunity to allay so many misconceptions and fears people have about Islam and Muslims. But also, because I was talking to Christians, it's just so fantastic to see when people suddenly realise that, hang on, there's really not much between you and me! It renews your faith in humanity and especially in people of other faiths. There was an amusing and very sweet point during the session. After I'd been talking for about 40 minutes (during which time I had spoken  about the fact that I was fasting) I said to the group "right now over to you because I need a rest as my mouth is getting very dry". I suddenly became aware that a lady had jumped up and was heading to the drinks to pour me some water! However I didn't say anything and then realised that I didn't need to because about half a dozen other people were waving their arms at her frantically to remind her I was fasting! A wonderful couple of days sharing and caring with my Christian brothers and sisters!

Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE DL

Personal views personal opinions -

Credit: Sarah Ager

I always enjoy reading the posts on Interfaith Ramadan.  I have gained much insight into the spiritual lives of those of other faiths.  I particularly liked (so far) the one by Vicki Garlock 'Forget about the Fasting. What about the Food?'  It was interesting to see various faiths that had stories about how a little food miraculously fed a great number of people. The point Vicky made was, and I quote, 'Tales such as these – where a common theme echoes off differing historical and cultural frameworks – are the tales that bind. They bind us to our ancestors. They bind us to one another. And they bind us to the Great Mystery.' I was born into a Christian home and grew up to serve God as a Christian church leader.  About 8-9 years ago I stopped attending worship in a Christian building, feeling the need to seek God through other means, looking into the beliefs of other faiths. I still consider myself a Christian but one who doesn't attend or take part in organised gatherings. I have learned to seek and find God through creation (I love my garden and wildlife), through reading things written by people of other faiths and following them on social media.  I feel that the God I serve is bigger than any one expression and encompasses and includes all in His great love. I receive much blessing and encouragement on my spiritual journey through the lives and words of many with differing spiritual practices. We enrich each other's lives in sharing our experiences.  Thank you Vicky for reminding me and thank you Sarah for the work you do through Interfaith Ramadan.

Mavis Andradez previously wrote When Interfaith Ramadan Goes Meta for the 2015 Interfaith Ramadan series and also happens to be Sarah's cousin twice removed. 

This year I have been receiving iftaari (plates of samosas, fruit salad and sweets common in South Asian diaspora) from my neighbours. Before I had a chance to reciprocate, my next door neighbours, lovely Hindu family, also sent over plates with dates, Rooh Afza milky sherbet drinks and samosas. It doesn't surprise me at all because they are like family. But it is heartwarming and exciting to share this joy with them. And it's so nice to get food at your doorstep when you are hangry and tired at 8 p.m.

Shireen Ahmed is a sports activist and a freelance writer who focuses on Muslim women and the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. When she isn't watching soccer, she drinks coffee as a tool of resistance. She tweets at @_shireenahmed_ and her website is

Credit: Anwar 

I love reading the sign board on my nearby Lutheran church. This year for almost 3 full weeks they kept the sign up "To Our Muslim Neighbors Blessed Ramadan". The sign is now replaced by "Tell someone you love them today". I think I will pay a visit to the church this Sunday to tell them how much I love them for being so progressive in this climate of hate and Islamophobia.


I’ve written before about Fast to Feed, an annual interfaith Ramadan tradition on my campus, and how much it means to me. This year’s was particularly special. It was just a few days after the tragedy in Orlando, and as a queer woman, my heart and soul were especially weary as I walked into the event that night. Fast to Feed, always inspiring, was this year a place of healing. Breaking the fast alongside my Muslim students and guests were more non-Muslims than usually attend. Among them were a Jain alumnus; a female incoming first-year student who identifies as a gay Christian; and even the new priest for the local Catholic church, who was warm and gracious and genuinely happy to be present. Together we remembered and mourned lives lost, raised money for Chicago’s hungry, and formed new friendships. Fast to Feed was a powerful reminder of love and community and best of humanity.

Lynne Marie Meyer serves as the Director of Spiritual Life and Diversity at Illinois Institute of Technology, where she works with IIT’s richly diverse population to make interfaith service a social norm. She previously wrote The Repair Of The World for Interfaith Ramadan and can also be found on Twitter at @Lynne_M_Meyer

Credit: J Robert Eagan

This year I decided to create a Ramadan Conversations series on my podcast (linked below).  The goal was to hear from my Muslim friends around the U.S. about the what and why of Ramadan for them.  Through these conversations, I learned that each of them find Ramadan to be an intensely spiritual time of connection with God, which ran counter to what I experienced when I lived in the Middle East.  I was inspired to create rhythms in my own life to slow down and make space to listen to, and search for, the voice of God. 

J Robert Eagan is the author of Of Strangers & Enemies and the co-founder of SE7EN FAST, a hub for connecting non-Muslims with interfaith Iftars during Ramadan. Eagan can be found on twitter at @Se7enFast, on both and, as well as on the podcast

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