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

Related Posts: Three Ways Christians Can Benefit from a Ramadan Fast - Rev J. Dana Trent

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.

Previous Post:
Interfaith Ramadan Vignettes From Around The World

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Finding Home - Sarah Ager
Leaving Community To Find Myself - Harleen Kaur

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 - http://hifsahiblog.wordpress.com/

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 www.shireenahmed.com

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 jroberteagan.com and se7enfast.com, as well as on the podcast frienemies.podbean.com/

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dear Christmas, Meet Ramadan and Eid - Kristin Garrity Şekerci

These reflections on family, identity and holiday traditions by Kristin Garrity Şekerci are part of the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

credit: withaspin 

I was recently asked what my favorite holiday was. My kneejerk reaction?


Wait. I mean…Eid?

I have been celebrating Christmas my entire life, but Eid, and its lead up – Ramadan – for only the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, Eid is an incredibly important holiday to me, but it still does not hold a fanoos, I mean candle (just kidding), to Christmas. At least, not yet.

The question came at a poignant time. It was almost Ramadan, so that meant I was trying my best to get into the spirit. I was hanging up lights in my home, scouring Amazon for “Islamic” cookie cutters and Eid Advent calendars and considering sending out, for the first time, Eid holiday greeting cards to friends and family. And, of course, making sure our home was well-stocked with the latest Ramadan and Eid children’s books. Thanks, Curious George (and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!!).

I was reminded again of that question when I stepped into a neighborhood church for Taraweeh prayer, the special night prayer that takes place during Ramadan. Yes, I said church. And, no, it wasn’t a Freudian slip. When I first stepped inside that marble-chilled church, I was immediately met with a lingering fragrance of incense and happy Sunday mornings. To hear Qur’anic recitation reverberate throughout its walls was powerfully evocative. A convergence.

As the years go by, Muslim reverts/converts are finding their footing and shaping their own traditions for Ramadan and Eid. These newfound holidays and holy days are growing on us. But maybe they will never hold the same place in our hearts as Christmas. Because Christmas, just like Ramadan and Eid, are really all about celebrating in community. With family, friends and loved ones. 

Sadly, many American Muslims do not have loved ones to celebrate with. More often than not, reverts/converts are met with soured or tense relationships with family members after deciding to join the faith. Navigating these new and old traditions, therefore, can become a delicate, tricky balance. We try our best to firmly root our new holidays and traditions, while still respecting and loving the traditions we’ve celebrated our entire lives. Traditions that are inherently tied to familial bonds. 

To say that today’s toxically saturated climate of Islamophobia exacerbates this fragile footing is an understatement. For many American Muslims, navigating these traditions – and the identities and relationships that are bound within – is an isolating (and even psychologically damaging) experience. Dangerously irresponsible and hate-inciting rhetoric by some of today’s leading figures is ripping families apart. Believe me, you don’t need a ban on Muslims to destroy families. Islamophobic rhetoric is already doing that.

But, in the spirit of Ramadan, I don’t want to end on a bad note. Personally, I can’t wait until Christmas and Ramadan/Eid sync up. We’ve got a ways to go – 15 some years – but what a convergence it will be! I hope and pray that, by then, as a national community, we will be able to celebrate these traditions together. Not only on our calendars, but in our hearts and homes as well.

Kristin Garrity Şekerci works at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, a multiyear research project on Islamophobia. She received her M.A. from American University in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs and is active in the interfaith community in Washington, DC. 

Previous Post: 
Determination - Illustrations by Sabba Khan 

Related Post: 
A Muslim Celebrating Christmas? - Sarah Ager
A Muslim Easter Bunny for Jewish Children? - Jillian Pikora

Monday, 20 June 2016

Determination - Sabba Khan

This is the thirteenth 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. 

Ramadan 2016 is the longest and most challenging Ramadan in the lunar calendar's 33 year cycle.
I admire all my Muslim brothers and sisters who keep to their fasts whist holding down full-time jobs and taking care of their families.

However, there are those hidden voices within the community that just don't have the "steadfastness of faith".

Like me.

What do we do other than feel guilty and ashamed?
Yet somehow in not participating, I feel truer to myself.


This is an ode to all those who keep fast,
those who once did but now do not,
those who drink those gulps of water in secret,
those occasionals that do it when they can muster the strength,
and maybe even those who aspire to one day be able to keep a full fast.

I show you what Ramadan has given me.

Sabba Khan is a spatial designer by day and artist by night. Her work is an exploration of first world city life as a second generation Pakistani Muslim migrant. She explores themes of belonging, memory and identity in hopes to bring unity and inclusion to sometimes tormented narratives.
You can find her on Twitter and see more of her artwork on Facebook

Previous Post:
A Muslim Easter Bunny for Jewish Children? - Jillian Pikora

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Our Imperfect Perspective Truth - Hassan Radwan
Falling Head First Into The Ramadan Dip

Saturday, 18 June 2016

A Muslim Easter Bunny for Jewish Children? - Jillian Pikora

This is the twelfth 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: Jillian Pikora

grew up in a majority Catholic-Christian town, Easter was a big deal. Besides going to church for a mass with a priest who knew everyone's name, there was the bunny. I mean that with a capital B because I'm talking about none other than the larger-than-life, Easter Bunny. He would go to the town commons and hide eggs for all the children to find. After I became a Muslim I was unsure if I would ever celebrate this holiday again and share such sweet memories, but then an opportunity arose. In 2015 I became the Easter Bunny, this is how my metamorphosis into our cotton-tail friend came to be: 

I am preparing to move to Egypt to be with my fiancé (now husband) when I am told my favorite two little girls need a sleepover while their mom and dad have a date night. I'm still living with my parents and they've decorated the whole house for the Easter season. They always have respected my new religion but like to continue to include me in the more secular traditions of the Catholic faith they raised me in. I thought it would be awkward for my guests, not because of my faith (we all acknowledge this is an odd juxtaposition although not too surprising given my lingering affinity for Christmas) but because my guests are being raised in the Jewish faith of their mother. 

I decide to talk to the girls' parents about my concern. Instead of sharing any apprehensions, they are excited to have this opportunity to girls hunt for eggs at my parents house. "Because childhood should be full of magic...it's really special the way that your family includes my children in your traditions-there's a lot we can learn about each other from sharing traditions as an observer. I love the way you blend the beliefs you grew up with those that called to you and that you chose to follow as an adult, and I hope that seeing that now will help them understand that they can as they grow, explore and discover their own things and find ways to balance where they come from with who they become." 

The parents give me a bag of goodies to use and add to my Easter Bunny surprises. I have also prepared books about Egypt to read at bedtime to help them understand more about my impending trip, because at five and seven the idea of Egypt involves many questions about who lives in the pyramids and random things about camels.  

Credit: Jillian Pikora

At 6pm the girls arrive, and kiss their mom and dad goodbye. After eating, watching a movie, playing dolls and dress-up; we color and decorate eggs.  While they are drying we go and reading all those books, as they fall asleep in a pile of pillows, stuffed animals, and sleeping bags. I head to my room and hope they're still asleep when I take on my new role as Bunny in the early morning.  

Here I am just before sunrise. I put on my hijab and give salah (prayers) for fajr (dawn prayer time) Then I assemble Easter Baskets full of goodies. Next I fill plastic eggs with sweets, stickers, and other small prizes to be equally divided and awardedin the same way my big brother and I did when we were small. Finally, I hide the eggs around my room and the game room and lay out a set of bunny ears for my two special guest. 

The girls awake. The five year old loves animals and runs to put on the Bunny ears. Afterwards the two little rabbits explore the house and find those eggs. They sort out the spoils and go through the baskets. When we sit down for our breakfast they ask me about why the Bunny comes to my house if I'm not Christian. I tell them, "My mommy and daddy are Christian so the Bunny still stops by for any children who stay here. He wants us to celebrate spring and all the beautiful things coming to life, not just Jesus' resurrection." 

They youngest says, "Yeah, because I don't believe in that." The older girl shouts as if she is interrupting, "Yes, and YOU don't either!" I smile and say, "that is true but the new life can be baby sheep, chicks, flowers. You've seen all the pretty flowers outside and they come out because it's spring." They both said and emphatic "Yes" and they start asking all sorts of questions about eggs; "Why are they colored?" "Why are some plastic?" "Why do we hunt for them?" "Are there special Easter foods?" Where do these traditions come from if they aren't all Christian?"  

I love all these questions. I think, and hope, I was this curious at age 5 or 7, like these two smarty-pants! I try my best to tackle the questions..."Special foods are smoke meats and fish, boiled eggs, and onions. I don't think you like those that much, especially for breakfast, so we're not having that today...This tradition, and the egg hunt, date back to ancient Egypt even before Cleopatra, that we read about last night. Many cultures color eggs, but I don't know all the reasons behind it." We finish the morning exploring Google on my phone.  

We make plans to stay in touch by taking 'flat' or picture-paper doll versions of each other to all the places we will travel while we're apart, then taking photos of dolls at the cool places, and sharing them on Facebook. We have one last big hug good-bye.  

Credit: Jillian Pikora

It's been over a year, yet I still keep thinking: Why do I think it was important?  

Why was sharing a tradition like the Easter Bunny so special? It was special because we celebrate the holiday differently based on the cultures we are exposed to. My parents have many Polish ancestors, so the food and painted eggs are more important than any egg hunt, because where are relatives are from Easter is a time that often still has snow melting. Maybe that's why I typically hunted for plastic eggs indoors and not out in the chilly air on the town commons. Beyond culture; I wanted these young girls to see how different faiths can share traditions without insulting or disrespecting their own. Just like when they bring me Porum cookies or share a date with me when I break my fast, we are celebrating our differences not hindering our own believes. This opportunities expand our perceptions not limit them.  

I've been reflecting on this event this Ramadan and how much sharing this tradition helped me understand how my childhood beliefs could translate into how I want my future Muslim children to see the world. As the girl's mother said to me, "the relationship and understanding of Muslims is so complicated and so filled with anger, and hate and terrible words. The only way to change that is to ensure that we create the bridges on the smallest levels so the kids always have positive messages to counter the negative messages about Muslims and IslamIt's about creating a better, safer, more peaceful world, but mostly it's about sharing something you love and showing kindness with my kids, who love you.

Jillian Pikora is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and news sites including but not limited to; Azizah Magazine, Huffington Post, Coming of Faith, Sisters Magazine, New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. Jillian has made appearances on CNN, Fox News, CSPAN, and Al Jazeera. She currently is a writer at CairoScene. http://jillianpikora.com/ 

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