Our Campaign Director, Catherine Orsborn, had a conversation with Jeff Eagan, who with his wife Jessey started the Se7en Fast initiative this Ramadan season. By asking people of multiple faiths to fast in solidarity with Muslims on July 7 this year, this movement hopes to “encourage people of all faiths to walk the straight path of peace locally and globally.” Below are some snippets from their conversation. Want to participate? Visit www.se7enfast.com to learn how!
Catherine: I would love to hear about you and your background.
Jeff: I am from a medium size town in the state of Illinois (Pekin), which is well known for racism. There are about 36,000 people right now. When I was growing up our high school had 2,300 students and all but two of those students were white. My time growing up was learning how to divide myself and separate myself, create lines of divisions within the white population. If you weren’t in a specific church, you weren’t part of that community. Even though we weren’t diverse, we still found ways to separate ourselves. That’s how I grew up. I was raised in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday. I didn’t really learn about diversity or especially other religions.
C: I’m from Lexington, Kentucky, which isn’t all that different in some ways, perhaps. So are you are still living in the town you grew up in, and what kind of work are you doing now?
J: I am currently in the “city”, Peoria, which is three or four times the size of Pekin, Illinois. I work for Isaac-Ishmael Initiative that is based out of Denver. What we are trying to do as an organization is to specifically help Christians come to a more balanced understanding of Islam and Judaism; to see all people as created in the image of God, and to also see them as people that God has given promise and blessings to, while also encouraging the Church to engage in meaningful and reciprocal relationships with people. Basically learning more about what you believe through seeing it through the eyes of another person. So what we are doing with Se7en Fast is related to that- creating a space for people that are non-Muslim to eat across the table with people that are Muslim in as many places as possible. And to put a face on a group of people or an ideology that people are afraid of, and not just on the Christian side but from the Muslim side, which will benefit both the Christian and Muslim communities.
[Attribution: Se7en Fast Facebook page]
C: I am curious to hear more about where this idea comes from. Was it part of the Isaac Ishmael Initiative or did you come up with it?
J: No, this was me and my wife. So my wife blew up the internet for a day during Lent. She was the “Christian woman that wore the hijab” during Lent. Through that we got connected to Salma and Bassel who were putting together #Muslims4Lent with EidPrayLove and were really encouraging to my wife. In April we got together in Houston and started talking about how we could extend our hand back without asking Christians to fast during all of Ramadan. With that we kind of came up with a plan for a one-day event where people would do the fast like Muslims do and give the money they would have spent on food to a local food bank. That was the original idea, which then morphed into giving money to the World Food Programme because of the Syrian refugee crisis, since they have been having a money shortage. But that’s not the point, really. We are trying to get Christians and Muslims into the same room at the end of the day to break fast together. I believe that through relationships we can create spaces for peace to break out in our communities. Since I believe that, the relationships had to be the main point of what we are doing. The hard part is that it is out of our hands: Muslim communities have to be up for it as well as Christians who want to participate it. So anyway, my wife and I sat down together and decided we needed to do this. My boss was out of the country, so we took the lead and went ahead with it. So it wasn’t an Isaac Ismael Initiative idea to start off with, but after the fact the organization decided to support it.
C: I’d like to just hear about you and your wife’s background and how you first started with this type of engagement in the first place; it sounds like you grew up where there weren’t many Muslims that you knew. So how as a Christian did you start to care about this?
J: In 2008 we sold our house and moved to Amman, Jordan for a year and a half. We ended up getting jobs working for a Princess at an Islamic school and during that time I didn’t know anything about Islam so I was learning from the inside out. I came back from that and wanted to learn more about the conversations we were having with Muslims and all of the things we shared and had in common. I wanted teach as many people as I could the things I was learning so they could stop being afraid of Muslims and start loving them, because on top of everything else the fact is that fear leads to hatred and hatred doesn’t solve any of the world’s problems; it just increases them. We are called as people, both Muslims and Christians, to love our neighbors as ourselves and when Muslims are our neighbors we need to take that seriously. Loving strangers as you love yourself and even loving enemies is something that we are supposed to be doing, but the Church is terrible at doing that. So what I wanted to do through education is change that. I just wanted to invite as many people as I could on the journey I experienced.
C: So have you participated in Ramadan before?
J: I was fasting for the first ten days of it when we were in Amman, but then I got a parasite I lost 20 pounds so I decided it wasn’t good for me to fast. Then actually, there was a community of people that we started meeting with because we were all expats. We fasted together every Tuesday, which brought up a lot of other interesting conversations about fasting amongst ourselves and with Jordanians.
C: And what is your primary hope in doing Se7en Fast?
J: Creating the space for relationships to be possible. And if that happens that will be victory. The plan is for it to be the seventh day of the month whenever Ramadan is every year.
C: It’s a great idea- I’ve shared it with some of our Shoulder to Shoulder partners and they seem to love it. I believe Ramadan is such an important time for building relationships because it creates unique opportunities for engagement that aren’t always as easily present the rest of the year. One last question about it, have you received any push back at all?
J: Not yet, I mean we have had one email and a couple of guys posting on our Facebook. But there is a general disdain for the fact of Muslims’ existence in America and it is growing. Muslims are a minority and an oppressed group within America. God is on the side of the oppressed and if people could see that there could be major changes in the way people look at other marginalized communities. We are threatening that status quo with Se7en Fast.
C: Is there anything else that you would like to share before we close?
J: Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the fasting in and of itself, or even the donations at this point. That is not the main point, and if that’s all that we accomplish that’s fine but those are just channels for people to enter into engaging with others. Getting people together in one space is what is really important.
C: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk!
J: Thank you!