From the Worldwide Faith News archives


From Carol Fouke <>
Date Wed, 12 Dec 2001 15:00:01 -0800

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Contact: NCC/CWS News, 212-870-2227
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December 12, 2001, NEW YORK CITY - National Council of Churches General
Secretary Robert W. Edgar was among some 70 Muslims, Christians and Jews who
shared a traditional Muslim "Iftar" meal and a time of dialogue, on Dec. 6
at Union Theological Seminary here.

The unusual event took place during Ramadan, the holy month in the Islamic
lunar calendar when Muslims fast during daylight hours. The Iftar meal
breaks the day's fast after sunset prayers.

"If Sept. 11 had not happened, would we be here together, breaking bread,
listening to each other?" the Rev. Dr. Edgar asked in a panel discussion
following the vegetarian meal.

"In my theology, God did not cause this tragic event, but God helps us use
tragic events to heal wounds," Dr. Edgar said. "God is opening some doors
for us in the shadow of Sept. 11," he said, calling on participants of all
faiths "to learn together, to walk together, pray together, be seen
together, and model better behavior to the world."

Panelist Aisha Ad-Dawiyya of Women in Islam affirmed that in her 15 years of
interfaith work, the Dec. 6 shared Iftar meal stands out "as a special
gathering for me."  "As a result of Sept. 11, we have forged some new kinds
of relationships," Ad-Dawiyya said. "This is an incredible opportunity the
Creator has put before us. I trust we will not let it slip by."

Dr. Edgar expressed the hope that churches, synagogues and mosques would use
the months ahead to learn about each other's faith traditions. "This is a
teaching moment," he said, "a time to open the eyes of people who have been
blinded by propaganda."

In 2001, Ramadan overlaps with Advent, the season when Christians prepare
spiritually for the celebration of Christ's birth. That coincidence, coming
in a season of war, has prompted an unusually strong emphasis on fasting
among Christians, with Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and
other leaders calling for the observance of fast days at various times in
December and also in the months ahead.

Many who are fasting, including Dr. Edgar, say they do so not only in
solidarity with Muslims, but also to rediscover their own fasting traditions
and to appreciate the commonality of this practice.

Several panelists explained the purpose of the Ramadan fast, for the benefit
of non-Muslims in the audience.

"The real purpose of fasting is to purify the soul--to become
God-conscious," said Naeem Baig, secretary general of the Islamic Circle of
North America, which has U.S. headquarters in Jamaica, N.Y.

Elaborating on that theme was Feisal Rauf, an imam who is head of the
American Sufi Muslim Association. Rauf said that in the tumult of everyday
life the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual beings are shaken
together and become "an emulsion." When a person fasts and becomes still,
"these entities" settle out, allowing more spiritual awareness, he said.

Themes that emerged in the dialogue that followed the panel presentations
included the challenges facing many Muslims as they attempt to accommodate
their religious perspective with modern forms of government and a
religiously plural society.

"This ferment of ideas is something that the Muslim community needs," said
Rauf. Noting that the Muslim intellectual movement to modernize at the
beginning of the 20th century was quashed by the rise of "authoritarian
regimes" in many Muslim countries, he said, "We need to fast forward into
the 21st century."

Others suggested that the climate of fear enveloping Muslims today--created
by physical attacks, racial profiling, and the detention of many hundreds of
Muslims in the U.S.--prevents their open and honest discussion of Islam with
others.  "Some Muslims are giving superficial answers to questions about
Islam," said panelist Farid Esack of South Africa, who is a visiting
professor at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. "How do we go
beyond just PR?"

In a discussion of how the role of women in Islam gets played out in
interfaith dialogue, Aisha Ad-Dawiyya acknowledged that in Islam "we have
our gender challenges," but asked dialogue partners to refrain from
"superimposing your issues on the dialogue.  Ask yourself what your motive
is," she said. "We need to begin with mutual respect."

Despite the difficulties inherent in interfaith dialogue, Mary Boys of the
Union Theological Seminary faculty urged participants to persevere.
Observing that "our meal is a form of interfaith dialogue," she said that
such dialogue "is not first and foremost an intellectual exchange; it is a
religious one.  "Here tonight we have the possibility of forming
friendships," she said, "and interreligious friendships are the most
important friendships we can engage in, in our lives."


Note to Editors: See also:
"Out of the Ashes and Tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001" - NCC General Assembly
Statement, at
"For the Faithful Living of These Days" - NCC General Assembly Statement, at
"Message to Muslims in the United States at the End of Ramadan" - NCC
General Secretary Statement, at
"NCC Friendship Press Offers Book on Islam - at
"Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism" - originally
issued Sept. 12, 2001 - at

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