Accompanying Ramadan

by Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald MAfr OBE

 

The Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese has traced out six areas of development.  The first of these is ‘Becoming a Church that accompanies people through life’.  We may ask ourselves: Who are the people to be accompanied?  What about people of other religions, Muslims for instance, should accompaniment be offered to them too?

On 2 April our Muslim brothers and sisters will enter the month of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and prayer.  On the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, which has a large Muslim population, the Christians devised a programme which they called Duyog Ramadan, ‘accompanying Ramadan’.  The idea was borrowed from music: when people sing they are often accompanied by someone playing the guitar.  The guitarist does not necessarily sing but accompanies the singers.  So, with Ramadan: the Christians would not be observing the fast, but they could accompany their Muslim brothers and sisters during the holy month by showing interest in what they are doing and by praying for them.

One of the main features of the month of Ramadan is fasting.  This fast means not allowing anything to enter the body, neither food nor drink; smoking, or vaping are also excluded.  This fast lasts during the hours of light: traditionally from when a white thread can be distinguished from a black thread, until this is no longer possible.  Once the light has gone the fast can be broken.  Consequently, Ramadan is also a month of feasting, with family and friends gathering for the iftâr, the meal that breaks the fast.  Christians too may be invited to the breaking of the fast.  On 18 May 2019 the Merseyside Network of Mosques organized a large iftâr at the Pier Head.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar which is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar.  This means that Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar year, comes earlier each year.  This year it is due to start on 2 April, but next year it will begin in March.  It is obvious that when Ramadan falls in winter in Liverpool the daylight hours are short, but when it falls in summer the hours of the fast are very long.

Ramadan is also a month of prayer.  There are special prayers in the mosque in the evening.  These are not obligatory, but many people attend them.  An important place is given in Ramadan to the recitation of the Qur’an.  In fact, apart from its 114 sûras (chapters) the Qur’an is divided into 30 parts of equal length, one for each day of the month.  So, if one part is read each day, by the end of the month the whole of the Qur’an will have been read.

Before the end of Ramadan Muslims are expected to make a special donation for the poor.  This can be in kind or a financial donation (In 2019 the Abdullah Quilliam Mosque in Liverpool indicated £5 per person as the amount to be offered).

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr, the feast of the Breaking of the Fast.  There are special prayers on this day, at the mosque, or in another venue where large numbers of Muslims can gather.  It is a time for giving new clothes and sweets to children.  Greetings are also exchanged.  In fact, Eid al-Saghîr, the Lesser Feast (the Greater Feast, Eid al-Kabîr or, to give it its proper name, Eid al-Adhâ, the Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorates the readiness of Abraham to sacrifice his son) is rather like Christmas for Christians.

So how can we, as Catholic Christians, accompany Muslims during Ramadan?  The most important way is to accompany them through prayer, both individually and as a community.  For instance, they could be mentioned in the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass.  Perhaps an iftâr could be arranged for the parents of Muslim children attending the local Catholic school.  At the end of Ramadan the parish could send greetings to the local Muslim community.

Of course, for all this to happen it is useful for the parishioners to know more about Islam.  In the parish of St Vincent de Paul, in Liverpool 1, a daily post was put on the parish Facebook account during Ramadan 2019.  These posts have been collected in a little booklet ‘Accompanying Ramadan’ (available at the Pauline Bookshop, Church Street, price £4.99).

 

 

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So how can we, as Catholic Christians, accompany Muslims during Ramadan?

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