By Sam Kenyon/University of Washington News Lab
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Temple B’nai Torah have had an interfaith relationship for a decade, and for two years in a row they have celebrated overlapping religious ceremonies together with a shared meal.
This year July 8 through Aug. 7 marks the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from food and water every day from sunrise to sunset. Beginning in the evening of Monday, July 15 and ending in the evening of Tuesday, July 16 was the Jewish day of Tisha B’Av, a day of commemoration observed by fasting.
One year ago Temple B’nai Torah hosted a shared meal to break the fast, and this year it was the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s turn to host the celebration of their combined religious ceremonies.
“(E)veryone who has attended (is) walking away with a feeling of exhilaration. That’s really what makes it such a wonderful event … overall I think it’s been a huge blessing for us,” said Irfan Chaudhry, the local president of the Ahmadiyya community.
The event, called “Two Faiths, One God,” began with a recitation from the Koran, followed by a succession of speakers. James Mirel, the rabbi from the Temple B’nai Torah, spoke about the tradition of fasting in Judaism, and Dr. Ata Karim reflected on fasting in Islam. After the speakers finished and the sun had gone down everyone broke the fast together.
Waqas Malik is the vice president of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Malik said that they often see breaking the fast during Ramadan as a good opportunity for interfaith outreach.
“Sharing a meal is more intimate than an informal gathering,” he said.
Fasting is one of the many common traditions between Judaism and Islam.
“The two religions are very similar. Some people say almost the same religion,” Mirel said. Muslims and Jews pray to the same divine figure. Mirel explained that although there are many names between the two religions, such as Allah or Yahweh, they are speaking about the same God.
Through the common tradition of fasting and breaking the fast, these two communities seek to bond, partly because of their similarities, but also because of their differences. These groups want to show that the historic conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East is not the only relationship the two religions can have.
“The story is being told as a religious conflict, when the truth of the matter is, it’s a political conflict,” said Alam Ali, the spokesperson and director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya community. Ali feels it is important to provide a counter to the image of religious conflict.
“When we reach out to our brethren it opens up our minds and more importantly it opens up our hearts,” he said.
The Ahmadiyya community hopes to welcome stronger bonds with all inter-faith populations, perhaps by breaking fast during Ramadan.
“People who eat together cannot be angry with each other,” Karim said.
Added Mirel: “Peace is something incremental.” The faithful hope and believe that gatherings like “Two Faiths One God” can slowly, cumulatively, help heal the conflicted parts of the world, in small steps.
Mirel asked Lauren Balter to speak at the event as a representative of Jewish youth. She described her hope that over time events like this will grow in popularity and become more common. “Then, eventually this will be not out of the ordinary, it’ll be the norm,” she said.
By breaking their fast together, members of Temple B’nai Torah and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community hope to demonstrate that the narrative about their two faiths is not true.
“I think what we are doing tonight really is what we say, ‘Tikkun Olam,’ “ Mirel said. “‘Repairing the world,’ one step at a time.”
Sam Kenyon is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.