Every year, during the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims fast for 30 days.
Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year because it was the month in which the Quran was revealed.
The fast of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and an essential observance for all devout Muslims.
Every year, for an entire lunar month, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims abstain from food, liquids and sexual relations to focus their attention on spiritual renewal.
Each day at sunset the “iftar” meals that break their daily fast are preceded by prayer and a recitation from the Quran.
Increasingly in America, as Muslims seek to familiarize persons of other faiths with their religion, they are inviting their non-Muslim friends and acquaintances to share an iftar dinner with them.
In Oklahoma City, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog has been hosting large and diverse groups at iftar dinners for 10 years.
This year the Oklahoma City chapter hosted a special “Dinner of the Abrahamic Traditions” at the Raindrop Turkish House.
They invited religious leaders from each of the three Abrahamic faith traditions to explain the meaning and significance of fasting in their tradition.
Abby Jacobson, rabbi at Emmanuel Synagogue, spoke about the special significance of fasting in the Jewish tradition this year as the Jewish fast of the Tisha b’Av fell within the Islamic month of Ramadan.
The fast of Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples.
Jacobson felt especially blessed to share a time of fasting with her Muslim friends. She believes that the practice of fasting works “to intensify prayer.”
William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, spoke about the significance of fasting in the life of Jesus and noted that there was an “ambiguity” about fasting for Jesus.
Jesus was criticized for not fasting as much as John the Baptist. He said a similar “ambiguity” about fasting prevails with the Christian tradition. Some Christian traditions emphasize and practice fasting more than others.
Tabbernee also noted an increasing emphasis on ascetic practices like fasting in our churches during the Lenten season.
Imad Enchassi, imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said fasting is understood to be like a medical “prescription” to help Muslims “attain piety.”
The Muslim tradition holds that Moses told Aaron, “When the stomach is empty, the conscience is alive. When the stomach is empty, the spirit is high.”
Enchassi also quoted the poet Rumi as saying: “Something (is) magical and mystical about fasting, about an empty stomach, because you are imitating the status of an angel. Because when the stomach is empty, you start seeing with the eyes of God, you start hearing with the ears of God, and you start giving with the hands of God.”
BrucePrescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman, Okla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He blogs at Mainstream Baptist.
Imad Enchassi is featured in the EthicsDaily.com documentary Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims. Watch a clip of Enchassi below.
Bruce Prescott, now retired, served as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists from 1998-2014.