By Bernard Pelletier
“Can a man who is warm understand one who is freezing?”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
That was the question posed by Muslim Chaplin Iskandar Atajanow as he spoke on the importance of Ramadan fasting. Chaplain Iskandar who grew up in Tajikistan used this quote from Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to illustrate how fasting enables Muslims to reflect and understand the perspective of the less fortunate. He was joined on the panel by Reverend Steven Jungkeit and Rabbi Esra Balser, each of whom spoke about the traditions of fasting in Christianity and Judaism. Each tradition uses fasting and control of physical pleasures as a pathway to understanding and supplication to God. Reverend Jungkeit talked about Christ’s fasting in the desert for 40 days as the basis for Christian’s Lenten fast rituals. In recent times the severity of fasting has been reduced however and most devout Christians give up a small pleasure (chocolate is a favorite!) during Lent. Rabbi Balser talked about the Jewish high holidays as occasions for Jews to fast. In each tradition the fast is both a sacrifice and a means to understanding. All agreed though that Ramadan was the longest fasting period in any of the faith traditions.
From my own perspective as a Catholic I was interested in comparing Ramadan to Lent. The intent seems very similar. In each case the holidays harken back to a past event – whether it be the revelation of the Quran or Christ’s fast and temptation in the desert. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two holidays is the degree to which observance is prescribed in Islam and Judaism and left to individual choice in Christianity. Indeed the Jewish couple at our table noted that Judaism and Islam share much in common.
The Taste of Ramadan is an annual event sponsored by the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut. The MCC issues an open invitation to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join them in the breaking of the fast. The program commenced with a Quranic Recitation – in both Arabic and English and then a welcome by Reza Monsoor. The panel discussion of fasting in Abrahamic faiths led to table discussions and then… finally… the breaking of the fast.
The auditorium of the West Hartford Town Hall was filled to overflowing. While the delicious meal was, no doubt, an inducement to attendance, the strong turnout reflected something more. On each table Muslims and non-Muslims shared their perspectives on the events of the evening and indeed, the world. Topics ranged from theological discussions on suffering and God’s will to geopolitical trends across the Muslim world. There was a palpable feeling of coming together that filled the auditorium.
The aim of Critical Connections is to build resilient communities. This event – and others like it are a crucial beginning to that process of connection. Meeting – speaking – sharing a meal – these are the modest steps that are so necessary in today’s world.
Bernie Pelletier is Program Director at Critical Connections