By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger
Do you ever think that you should get out more?
Okay, admittedly, that was a cheeky way to open in these days of lock-down.
Truth be told, I’m here to extend a serious invitation, which meets social distancing guidelines, and is bound to increase your IQ (that is, your Interreligious Quotient*.)
(*I made that up.)
Will you take a step to engage with the Muslim community during this holy month of Ramadan?
Actually, you will have accepted the invitation if you persist to the end of this article!
Since the Second Vatican Council, we in the Catholic church have officially held “in esteem” the Muslims and those of other faiths (see Nostra Aetate, especially number 3.) In more recent days, our leaders have urged us all to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and marginalized, particularly with Muslims in the face of a ban on immigration to the U.S.
In this time of Covid 19, Muslims are experiencing a holy month like no other, even as we who are Christians and Jews have experienced discombobulation in our observances of Easter and Passover, respectively. Muslim friends have told me that Ramadan is normally their most social month of the year!
A little more background.
Ramadan is a holy month in the Muslim lunar calendar (in 2020, it goes from April 23 through May 23.) Ramadan was the month in which the scriptures of Islam, the holy Qu’ran, was given by God through the prophet Muhammad. Muslims observe the month with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, as each is able (reminiscent of the prayer practices of Christians during Lent and Jews during their holy days.)
The Muslim fast from food and drink begins at dawn, and is broken in the context of prayer and a festive community meal called an iftar. Such gatherings typically extend into the evening, at one family’s home one night, at another the next, at a neighborhood center or a mosque community hall the next.
Perhaps you would choose to show solidarity with your local Muslim community by finding them online, and leaving them a message of kindness and solidarity. The greeting that expresses “happy or blessed” celebration is Ramadan Mubarak! You might get some ideas from Cardinal Cupich’s greeting, which you can find here.
My housemates and I actually knocked at two Muslim homes in our neighborhood last week (wearing masks, minding social distancing), and as the doors opened, we chimed Ramadan Mubarak! Our startled neighbors smiled and gratefully accepted our homemade card and store-bought cookies.
Admittedly, that mode of interaction wouldn’t be for everybody. A simple yet meaningful way to learn more about Islam as practiced by American Muslims is to look online to link with any of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue partners.
Or hey, maybe you would like to attend a public community iftar with me? Two years ago I went in person, but next Wednesday May 20 (6:00-7:15 PM Central) I’m ZOOMing it, in Chicago and Atlanta. You’re invited to register too!
One simple answer: Why not?
Another more cogent answer: In accepting such an invitation with one’s presence, one honors the Muslim community’s tradition and expresses solidarity with their efforts for justice and peace.
The particular community iftar I’m “attending” is sponsored by a remarkable nonprofit in Chicago (since 1997) and Atlanta (since 2016) called the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, which goes by the acronym IMAN. The Arabic word iman means faith, which names the motivating energy that founded and sustains IMAN.
We sisters and associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph, like IMAN, are striving to go about our mission of unioning love through the lens of an integral ecology, which is the idea that everything is connected. If you’re wondering what that might look like, look more closely at IMAN’s way of being, which resonates deeply with any effort founded upon principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is a community organization that fosters health, wellness and healing in the inner-city by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts, and operating a holistic health center.
What are some ways IMAN is doing this?
- Asserting that health care is a universal human right, IMAN has established a federally qualified medical, behavioral and dental health center.
- Understanding that injustice is structural, IMAN mobilizes local advocacy for criminal justice reform, access to healthy food, and housing policy.
- Knowing the power of community-engaged art, the dynamic presentation and expression of the arts have been integral to IMAN’s work since its inception.
- Standing for the dignity of citizens returning from incarceration and high-risk youth, IMAN’s Green Re-entry program provides transitional housing, life skills education, and sustainable construction training.
Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words. Watch this clip featuring IMAN’s work in this time of Covid 19.
If you accompany me, and many others, to IMAN’s community iftar, you will doubtlessly hear an “ask” to support their work. I can assure you that your spiritual gifts of prayer and solidarity would be received—with overflowing gratitude—as enough.
So, why not? Ramadan Mubarak!
About the Author
Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min., completed her doctoral thesis-project at Catholic Theological Union (2018), entitled Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking in Solidarity on the Path to Interfaith Leadership. She is pictured here, second from left, with her 10 Muslim and Catholic participants on the fourth of four gatherings for interreligious appreciative learning.