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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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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