There were smiles, hugs and kisses all around. They referred to each other as sister. There were sighs of dismay as the news was shared that their Jewish sisters could not attend due to health reasons. It was the monthly Faith Club meeting on Aug. 11. The topic was Ramadan.
The Faith Club is a group of women who meet once a month to explore the differences and similarities of their three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some were complete strangers and others were casual friends when they first met in the summer of 2008. They met with the Rev. Kyle Bennett, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. He led them through some challenging exercises about their personal preferences. The women discovered that they had more similarities than differences. After that, the women began their own study and discussions using the book “The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Jew, A Christian-Three Women Search for Understanding” by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner as a guide.
They discovered that their three religions share one father, Abraham and are sometimes referred to as the Abrahamic family of faith. They all believe in one God. Stories, as well as some men and women in their sacred books the Torah, the Christian Bible and the Quran are similar.
This year Ramadan began on Aug. 1 and will continue until Aug. 30. The dates change every year as it is based on the lunar cycle. Next year it will begin 10 days earlier on July 20. The holiday celebrates when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. It is a time of fasting; a time of cleansing the body and the soul; a time of prayer as well as a time to learn patience and tolerance and a time of charity.
“You keep yourself hungry so you can relate with the poor and hungry,” said Qudsia Chaudhry, originally from Pakistan.
“God is always with you but He is especially with you when you are fasting,” said Oya Akkoc, who was originally from Turkey.
“Your belief and faith becomes stronger during this time,” added Chaudhry. “It is a month of blessing. We should pray as much as possible and leave everything behind so that we can focus on God.” Some traditions believe that God banishes Satan during Ramadan. “As Satan is banished we are not tempted as much as we seek God’s mercy and blessings. We get double blessings from God when we give charity at this time.”
“But we don’t know if the blessings will be in this world or the next,” said Akkoc. Only God knows.”
“I feel good, I feel light [when fasting],” said Chaudhry. “I leave everything behind, praying and reading the Quran.”
Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. They take no food or water. As children Akkoc and Chaudhry were not required to fast but they wanted to. Their mothers said they could do a half fast and have something at noon. Each of them has a childhood memory of accidentally breaking the fast. For Chaudhry it was a frozen ice pop and for Akkoc it was a bite of spinach pie.
The families would wake up before dawn to have the Sahoor or the meal before the first prayers and before the fast. Chaudhry remembers crying if her parents did not wake her. She continues the tradition with her children.
Both women shared how their families would gather at dusk for Iftar, the breaking of the fast. Chaudhry’s family in Pakistan broke the fast with dates and Akkoc’s family in Turkey broke the fast with olives. Afterwards families would walk to the Mosque together to pray.
During the fast nothing is to be taken into the body, no water, no injections, no eye or nose drops. There are also no physical relations between husband and wife. Exceptions to the fast are made for those whose health does not allow for it. Exceptions are also made for those in northern climates whose days are exceedingly long and for those who live at the equator and work out of doors. Travelers are also exempt. They may make up the fast at another time or pay more to a charitable organization.
Akkoc and Chaudhry lamented that commercialism has crept into the holy month. Instead of helping the poor the rich in some cases are throwing lavish Iftar parties for their friends in hotels. Some purchase clothing and decorate their homes for Iftar parties.
This led to a brief discussion of the commercialization of Christmas and Easter. All agreed the focus should be on the spiritual and not on consumerism to which club member Lynne Kleiwe added, “The more I learn the more alike we are.”
At the meeting’s conclusion, Faith Club member Katie Goetzmann said: “Religion is used as a way to achieve a relationship with God our Creator and each other, to make good decisions and to take care of the rights of others. I don’t think any religion has the answer for everyone.” “Its all about relationships,” added member Nanette Moll. With that everyone broke for cookies, deviled eggs and spinach pie. Everyone that is except for Chaudhry who was keeping the fast.
For information on the Faith Club call, Nanette Moll at 394-7242, ext. 90.