|Published by Giles Goddard on Wed, 15 Jun 2016 15:53|
The holy month of Ramadan started last Monday (or Tuesday, depending on which tradition you follow). Muslims across the world are fasting from dawn until dusk. They take no food and no water. The latter always causes surprise to those who don’t know. “What, not even water?” The fast is broken at sundown, a meal known as Iftar, which is often shared with family and friends. It is a moment of joy at the end of a hard day. I am fasting on Wednesdays, in honour of my Muslim friends.
I’m not strictly keeping UK time, though. In fact, many who are fasting will, when pushed, acknowledge that they have worked out ways of making the long days work. Some keep Mecca time, others have breakfast a little later than the 3.30am which precedes the dawn. They understand this to be within the tradition begun by the Prophet, for there are fatwas (legal opinions) giving dispensation for fasting in extreme latitudes.
So I'm fasting today. I recommend it, as a discipline. Your body adjusts itself in accordance with your mind. Whereas normally by noon I’m ready for lunch, on a fasting day my mind tells my body that there is no point in being hungry, really, because no food will be forthcoming….
The hunger kicks in at about 6pm. Sure, by 9pm I’m famished and thirsty. Which means that the meal, when it comes, is even more delicious. And during the day, when I feel the odd pang, I am reminded that I’m doing this for God; and there is a sense of reorientation towards the spiritual.
It’s a good thing, and not unlike Lent. Both practices spring from the same tradition of fasting in order to experience more fully the spiritual dimension of life.
If the slaughter of 49 LGBTI people by a man claiming allegiance to Allah could be any more tragic, it is made worse by the fact that it took place during Ramadan.
When I heard the news on Sunday, I felt the horrible sense so many felt, of shock and pain and grief for the dead, for their loved ones and their families. As the story unfolded, and the killer’s father gave his apology, and the killings were condemned by Muslims and non-Muslims across the world; as the Pope gave voice to the world’s dismay, I kept thinking, “and it was during Ramadan”. A savage distortion of the holy month, an evil perversion of a great religious tradition, causing perplexity and anguish to people of faith the world over.
The Church of England is currently locked in a struggle to escape from the shadow of homophobia. It is not doing well. We are a long way from respecting or acknowledging LGBTI people as equal members of the church. In our Christian tradition, we are contributing to the homophobia of society, thankfully rarely expressed in violence in the UK but real nonetheless. No religious tradition is innocent of the oppression of the innocent.
So what is the answer?
How do we stop these terrible events from happening?
There can be no simple answer. A thousand factors are at play every time a shooter kills indiscriminately or a gang throws a gay man off a roof.
But I am certain that if we demonise a tradition, we make it worse. Trump’s emanations, the anti-immigration rhetoric we are hearing in the UK; they are factors in the radicalisation of young men who feel placeless and alienated and turn to what must feel like the most powerful gang in the world in their search for identity.
I am certain that at the heart of all the great religious traditions is the truth that God is love, and those who live in love live in God. Expressed differently, for sure, but there. We are called to build bridges, not barriers; to open doors in the walls which divide us. There is no other way forward.
Which is why I am pleased that this Ramadan we are hosting an Iftar for LGBTI Muslims and their friends – a shared meal for people to come together and grow in fellowship and understanding.
And this is also why I am committed to fasting on Wednesdays throughout Ramadan. When I do, I will hold in my heart not only those who were killed but also the destructive global situation which produces so much alienation and uncontrollable anger.
Many people came to the short vigil we held on Monday evening for the victims of the shooting, when we kept silence and lit candles. Now more than ever it feels vital that we the people of St John's and St Andrew's work in whatever ways we can to try to build love; between individuals, between communities, and between the great religious traditions of which we are privileged to be part.