Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Breaking Bread and Sharing Faith

(Originally published on WireTap.)

For the 1.8 million Muslims living in America, last week marked the end of the holiest month of the year, Ramadan. During this month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims across the country recharged their spiritual connection to God in order to learn how to better live in accordance with the values of mercy, justice and peace.

The end of Ramadan brought an opportunity to apply those values immediately. Last week, a convergence of the Muslim and Jewish calendars brought together the holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Rosh Hashana, and the American adherents of these two religions found themselves celebrating their faith on the same weekend. This overlap of holidays has happened for the last four years, but due to calendar differences this may be the last time that Ramadan and Rosh Hashana come together for decades.

Recognizing the significance of the event, Muslim and Jewish students at Butler University organized an interfaith dinner where they could share in food, conversation and celebration. The night's agenda was simple: introduce the basics of each holiday to both communities, and open the floor for questions about the two faiths.

Speaking about the event, campus Rabbi Aaron Spiegel at first critiqued the general trend that characterizes interfaith dialog. "We in the religion world use the word interfaith much too often. And in my opinion, most of what passes for interfaith dialogue is not dialogue at all -- it's a lecture about why I'm right and you're wrong."

Yet at Butler University, Rabbi Spiegel felt that he had witnessed a true attempt at interfaith dialogue. "On the surface, the conversation seemed light and conversational. Yet, the exchange was profound. These young Jews and young Muslims genuinely shared with each other. There was no attempt at making nice; they genuinely liked talking to each other. There were no overt attempts at finding commonality; it was inherent. They recognized the humanity in one another."

This attempt to recognize the humanity in one another, to try and bridge the gaps created by prejudice and misunderstanding, is crucial for a country as diverse as America. By coming together to do so, American youth of these two faiths were making a statement. They would not let "political conflicts dressed in religious clothing" keep them from forming a community based on the values central to all faiths: peace and brotherhood.

The reports of a new bomb threat that have been unfolding over the last week are a critical reminder to all Americans of the importance of these values. As Muslims and Jews mark a new period on their calendars, let us hope that the activities of their representatives at Butler University remind us how to create the understanding necessary to nurture a nation that provides peace, liberty and justice for all.