This is the tenth 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 - National Institutes of Health: Public Domain
A lot of our Ramadan talk centers on fasting. I suppose that makes sense. Since Ramadan currently falls during the summer months in the northern hemisphere, many observers are fasting for the majority of the day.
But for the remaining hours, feasting joyfully ensues. Feasting with friends. Feasting with family. Feasting to build community.
The food-faith link is found the world over – either formally or informally. Yes, Muslims have their suhoors and iftars. But Sikhs have their langars. Jews have their Passover seders. Hindus have prasad. And Christians have their Sunday dinners.
The sacred nature of food also shows up in faith-based stories. Many traditions contain miraculous tales of their most devoted prophets feeding scores of people with only a small amount of food to start with. Here are a few, paraphrased versions of stories we share with the kids in our interfaith program. Since it’s Ramadan, we’ll start with Islam and go from there.
This story happened shortly after the Prophet (pbuh) had migrated from Mecca to Medina. He and Abu Bakr were staying at the home of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and his wife, Ummu.
Thrilled at the opportunity to host the Prophet while his nearby house was being constructed, Ummu and Abu Ayyub worked tirelessly to provide for their guests. One evening, the Prophet asked them to invite 30 guests for dinner. While Abu Ayyub and Ummu were happy to comply, they had prepared food only for the few people currently living in the household. However, when the 30 guests showed up, they all somehow managed to eat their fill, and there was still plenty of food left over. Ummu and Abu Ayyub were then told to invite 60 more people! Those 60 people also ate their fill with plenty left over! According to some accounts, 180 people were fed that night as everyone present witnessed the miracle of the never-ending meal.
Interestingly, similar accounts exist in the Christian Bible. Although the details vary, there are six passages in the four Gospels that tell the same basic story which goes something like this:
Jesus had spent the afternoon preaching to the crowds and healing the sick. When evening fell, the disciples urged Jesus to send everyone home. It was dinnertime, and the crowds were getting hungry. Jesus suggested that everyone stay and eat together. The disciples were a bit confused since there was only a small amount of food on hand – five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus had the food brought to him and invited everyone to take a seat in the grass. He took the food, gave thanks for it, and then gave it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. Everyone ate their fill, and there were still 12 baskets of food left over.
Elijah and his disciple, Elisha, are well-known prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Both have never-ending food source miracles associated with them.
Elijah: There came a time when the people of the land experienced a period of extreme drought. For a while, Elijah found sustenance at the stream in Cherith. But eventually, that too dried up. The Lord then sent Elijah to a widow in a nearby town. Upon his arrival, Elijah requested a drink of water, which the widow provided. Then, Elijah requested some bread. The widow assured him that she had no bread. She had a small amount of flour and oil, but not enough to bake a loaf of bread. Elijah told her to set aside her fear and make some cake. Then, he told her to make some cake for herself and her son, too. He assured her that the flour and oil would last until the rains finally came. And it was so.
Elisha: One of the men, who lived in the company of the prophets, died. The man’s widow then came to Elisha in great anguish and informed him that a creditor had arrived to take her two children as slaves. Elisha asked her what she had in her house, and she replied that she had only one jar of oil. Elisha told her to borrow as many empty vessels as she could find from her neighbors. She then took the vessels into her home and began pouring the oil into them. Only when all the vessels were full did the oil stop flowing. She sold the oil to pay off all her debts. She and her children then lived off the money that was left.
Many stories in the Sikh tradition highlight the lives of the ten human Gurus. This story centers on Guru Hargobind, the 6th human Guru.
There once was a devout Sikh woman named Bibi Shanti who had a son named Pulla. Their lives had been quite happy until Pulla’s father died, leaving Bibi Shanti an ostracized widow. One day, Pulla’s long-awaited prayer was answered when the beloved Guru Hargobind Ji and his followers rode into the village on their horses. The Guru asked Pulla to prepare langar for them. The townspeople laughed at the thought of Pulla and his mother making a feast for the Guru and all his followers when they were so poor. The Guru, reading their unkind thoughts, told Pulla to invite the entire village to the langar. The Guru then gave Bibi Shanti two cloths – one to cover the daal and one to cover the chapati dough – and told her to prepare the food without looking under the cloths. When everything was prepared, the langar was served. The Guru, his followers, and everyone in the village ate their fill.
It’s easy enough to find different interpretations of these stories. For some, they are miracles that actually happened, bearing witness to the power and goodness of God. For some, they are stories about how prophets and faith leaders empowered people to let go of their fears and find the generosity residing in their hearts.
But the fact that interpretations differ may not really matter. These stories exist because people throughout the centuries found them meaningful. They exist because humans tend to seek meaning in similar, if not identical, ways. The great prophets and faith leaders of the world’s religions served as constant reminders of the Divine Presence. They were somehow capable of helping everyone around them find understanding, compassion, and generosity in a world that often seemed devoid of such things. And their stories serve much the same role today.
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. Maybe that’s why we’re still reading them to our kids centuries later.
Vicki Michela Garlock Ph.D, is the founder of Faith Seeker Kids, which focuses on interfaith education. She is also Curriculum Specialist at Jubilee! Community church in Asheville, NC, where she has developed a Bible-based interfaith Sunday school curriculum for kids age 4 through Grade 8. The curriculum makes use of stories and sacred texts from a variety of faith traditions.
Vicki previously wrote Multifaith Mashup: The Moon and for Interfaith Ramadan.
Getting To Know The Mother Of Moses - Rabbi Susan E. Lippe
Fasting And Feasting, Friendship And Faith
Crumbs on the Floor - Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills
Letting Go and Letting God: Supporting Loved Ones With Eating Disorders in Ramadan