A Long-term Lent-Ramadan Partnership
Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign Director Catherine Orsborn recently spoke with Nadia Hassan, the Program Coordinator for ISNA’s Interfaith and Community Alliances office in DC, and Vicki Tamoush, the founder of Interfaith Witnesses in Southern California.
Nadia is an American Muslim and Vicki is an American Christian, both with family roots in Lebanon. They crossed paths in interfaith work in Southern California and in 2011 decided to become Lent-Ramadan partners, each fasting during both seasons in solidarity with one another. They’ve been doing it ever since.
Catherine: So, What made you decide to start observing Lent and Ramadan together?
Nadia: I don’t know why but I just wanted to participate; it was a beautiful exchange. For me, it really started with a question, I was just curious. You hear a lot about different peoples’ faith traditions but you don’t always get deeply into the why. In my own tradition, too, I like to dig deeper and understand the meaning behind it. I was curious about Lent and wanted to know more. You should have seen the email I received back from Vicki when I asked her about Lent!
I decided I wanted to be part of this. It’s good! You want to be part of anything that is good. I also like that there were options, when it comes to fasting during Lent.
Vicki: I’m Arab and Christian and I have always had a lot of Muslim friends, and Jewish friends too. It’s given me insight on the all of the Abrahamic faiths, not like an encyclopedia but in a true interaction with how others relate to their own faiths. I see true similarities all the time. I like that there is an overlap. It makes me a better person and a better Christian to dive into other practices.
N: Fast, pray, give alms- this is central to my faith and also to Christian faith during Lent. I welcome the opportunity to focus on these things through fasting twice in one year- Beyond just talking, but stepping into the lives of our friends and being a part of something that is important to them. Through participation this has strengthened my own faith and brought me closer to God.
After the first year we became Lent-Ramadan partners. We proposed it to the others in Interfaith Witnesses. We were able to watch others join. Those who did join had the same experience as us. It drew us closer together as friends and to God.
C: When did you decide to participate in each other’s fasts?
V: I must have been 2011.
N: I think it was after when did Lent come in 2011?
V: It would have been April that year.
N: It’s been a few years and then we had a very sentimental conversation when I left Southern California. I couldn’t even say goodbye.
V: It was difficult for you? It was difficult for US!!
N: We have a number of interfaith friends that had really drawn together with common love and desire to see our community to be safe and loving to one another. The distance has been hard.
V: But we are learning to live with it. The distance most definitely stinks. We have this friend- Clarita- whose birthday is today. She has these interfaith dinners in her house and one night she asked where’s Nadia? We had to tell her…
When she was in the hospital last year, this group took her there and brought her home. Her daughter called to say thank you to everyone. She is like a mother to all of us. That’s what deep interfaith friendships can become. You get to the deep part of yourself. If you share that deep part of yourself with someone, you have a bond that’s really difficult to break.
N: You have to understand Clarita is a petite, funny, Jewish woman with a smile that lights up a room. I keep praying for her and the energy I received from her inspires me to be a better person and one to go out and do more in the world.
C: Did you have any negative responses?
N: Some people thought it was just weird and different. To be honest, I didn’t really share it with many people. It was one of those very special moments. I almost didn’t want to share it with the whole world. But I really only got positive responses.
V: For the Christians who have participated in this, they come at it from a different angle. They are curious about Islam. They would say stuff like, well why didn’t I learn this in the media? They were coming out of true interest and desire to learn. Last year a mosque invited us to attend an Iftar and people just kept talking about it afterwards. This year, people from church were asking as Ramadan started if they could attend another Iftar. In increasing numbers the non-Muslim people who are invited to Iftars are fasting on the day of the Iftar in solidarity with their Muslim hosts.
N: Who was that couple that would come to all the Iftars?
V: Oh, Steve and Judy from the Mormon Church. This year they decided to engage in the entire fast for the entire month!
C: What else do you want to tell people about this experience?
V: I hope I can continue to do this the rest of my life. I hope that I’ll not only partner up with Nadia each Lent and Ramadan but I hope it will also grow. I truly believe that the world will improve as more people come together through faith. We will be able to handle conflicts better as well as being able to include more and more people.
N: When I moved to the East Coast I started sharing this story more and more with people and they were amazed by it. Ramadan is not only good for Muslims; it is good for everyone.
V: Oh yes
N: Learning about other people’s faiths, any faiths, has made me a better Muslim. It has taught me lessons of Jesus and Moses along with Abraham. To follow in means to follow Jesus, to follow Moses and all the righteous who came before. God doesn’t differentiate any of the prophets.
If the Prophets were brothers, what should we be as people of faith?
C: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your experience!