Muslims, Catholics build bridges at Ramadan ritual meal

Muslims and Catholics enter into dialogue during a June 28 iftar, a meal after sunset which breaks the Ramadan fast.

PHOTO | COURTESY INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE INSTITUTE-EDMONTON

Muslims and Catholics enter into dialogue during a June 28 iftar, a meal after sunset which breaks the Ramadan fast.

July 11, 2016
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Time and again one heard a familiar refrain from dinner tables at the Catholic-Muslim dinner held at Providence Renewal Centre June 28: "Building bridges."

The event was an iftar, the ritual meal that is held at the end of each fasting day during the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Two hundred Muslims, Catholics and people of other faiths came together to meet each other, and discover the meaning of the tenets of each others' faiths. By doing that, they, as was said many times during the evening, were building bridges.

The event was hosted by Julien Hammond, ecumenical and interreligious relations co-ordinator of the Edmonton Archdiocese, and Ibrahim Cin, executive director of Intercultural Dialogue Institute-Edmonton.

The evening included a film called Love is a Verb featuring background information on the Intercultural Dialogue Institute and its founder Fethullah Gulen.

Questions from the audience centred around Ramadan, with Christians explaining to their Muslim neighbours that their religious tradition of Ramadan was very much like that of Christians' Lent.

While Muslim members in the audience responded to their call to prayer, Catholics sang traditional hymns. Dinner began at sunset, 10:10 pm.

The feast was based on sumptuous Middle-Eastern traditional fare, from lentil soup through to honey-laden baklava. The mood of the evening was warm and informal, with men carrying cooing babies while women prepared and served the various dishes.

People's reasons for attending varied. For some, it was genuine curiosity and, for many, it was their commitment to interfaith dialogue.

Teenager Aysenur Akkent came to the dinner and helped in the kitchen because "It's positive. We are all coming together."

Cathy King, executive director of Providence Renewal Centre, was enthused about the event. "We are all following on the same path but are wearing different shoes. That is how we build community."

Ibrahim Cin

Ibrahim Cin

King belongs to an interfaith prayer group that includes women of various faiths - Muslim, Baha'i, Buddhist, Catholic. "I love to learn," she said.

Cin, as well as being the co-host for the event, applauded the evening and said firmly, "I don't like what Muslims look like (in the media). We are not these people."

An enthusiastic proponent of interfaith dialogue, Cin told of the response when he meets people who have not met a Muslim before. They tell me, "You are not the person I have in mind."

Cin said prejudice is erased with small steps "one person at a time."

"We all have to work together for the good of humanity."

Hammond said the dinner was part of a concerted effort the archdiocese is making "to reach out to and collaborate with Muslim communities in a variety of ways - promoting interreligious education, dialogue, spiritual practices.

"We see these (activities) as pathways to building good and peaceful relations of understanding and friendship between our faith communities, for the betterment of the world communities and the strengthening of the common good.

"The interfaith dinner was just such a step."

Hammond explained how an iftar meal is usually marked in the home with one's immediate family or friends. Sometimes, however, it is celebrated with a wider community context of other Muslims or within an interfaith setting.

An iftar meal celebrated in community gives non-Muslims an "opportunity to learn about Ramadan and the purpose of fasting in the Muslim tradition.

"For a Christian attending an iftar, Hammond said, "it can be a means of recalling Lent and deepening our awareness of the spiritual significance of fasting within our own tradition."