Last Sunday I participated in what my church calls, “Fast Sunday,” which is our monthly religious Sabbath tradition, where members of my church are collectively invited to refrain from eating food or water for two consecutive meals, within a twenty four hour period (i.e., from the end of dinner on Saturday to the start of dinner on Sunday).
A primary purpose of this tradition is to encourage members to donate monies that would have been used for those two meals; to help those in need, which we call a “Fast Offering.” Also, as part of our Fast Sunday tradition, we worship together as a congregation and have the opportunity to express our faith, in what we call a “Testimony Meeting”, in which members can voluntarily share their thoughts and experiences that are spiritually significant to them. On a personal level, we are invited to combine our fast with prayer and religious study, seek inspiration and revelation for our personal spiritual development and deepening our relationship with God.
The last few of my Fast Sundays have been particularly meaningful for me and my family since we were invited to participate in a Ramadan/Iftar dinner. On Twitter, Engin Sezen posts images of Muslim families giving invited guests an experience of an Iftar dinner. With great enthusiasm, I shared these images to my followers, to celebrate this inspiring inter-faith collaboration. I was soon invited by Engin to join an Iftar dinner and have this experience for myself and my family. I was both thrilled and intrigued by this invitation. I know very little about the Muslim faith and I know even less about Ramadan but my heart beamed at the opportunity – especially as I witnessed other families enjoying their opportunities to learn. I also had very fond memories of being a guest at an Intercultural Dialogue Institute Friendship Dinner, a couple of years ago. I will never forget the warm feelings that I felt with the Muslim hosts and the Turkish cultural arts that I had the privilege of enjoying that evening. Also, how could I not mention the delicious food that was served at the dinner? There were fresh flavours and authentic spices that were new and exciting to me. To say the least, the invitation to enjoy food and friendship was difficult to turn down and I looked forward to my first Iftar dinner.
The dinner that I decided to attend was on Canada Day. Our family did not have any Canada Day plans and we decided that an Iftar dinner felt like an appropriate Canadian experience, given our multicultural nation. During the day, I thought about how my Muslim friends were not eating and wondered how they were going about their individual day. I was intrigued by what we might experience that evening. Although our family did not fast during this day, we did have a fast in mind and mentally prepared for our experience that evening.
Upon arriving at Turkish community centre, we were greeted with faces that seemed just as curious about us as we were about being there. It quickly became clear that not everyone spoke English but that did not matter to the members of this community. They quickly greeted us and directed us to where we needed to go. My daughter and I were escorted to the women’s tent and my husband and son were escorted to the men’s tent. Although this was a new experience for us for a community dinner, it actually helped us to feel immediately comfortable because my daughter and I were introduced to a community of women that were kind and caring and as excited to visit with friends as we were. Even though we looked different to each other, it was a very familiar environment of womanhood. I would peek over to the men’s tent and my husband and son looked just as comfortable visiting with the men.
As dusk approached, the food was ready to be served and we were escorted to a beautiful display of food and even though the women had been fasting during the day, no one seemed to race over to the food, the way we sometimes seemed to do, when we conclude our monthly fast. The respect and love shown to each other as the women patiently lined up for food made a positive impression on me.
The food made a good impression on me as well. It was evident that a lot of care and preparation went into preparing servings of rice, salads, portions of meat and potatoes and especially new to us, yogurt soup. Dates also seemed to be a special treat and part of a tradition at their Iftar dinners. Some women even brought special Turkish baked goodies for all to enjoy. Even though the food was extremely tasty, it was not rich or extravagant. There was a beautiful simplicity about it that seemed to soothe the fasting body and soul. Along with good company and conversation and community camaraderie, this breaking-of-the-fast was accompanied by a peaceful reverence and respect for this occasion. I enjoyed this feeling very much. After eating, most of the brothers and sisters entered the community hall for prayers while our hosts visited with us and answered any questions we had about their traditions. Their prayers weren’t quick. They were praying for a while. I was moved, once again and very much enjoyed the feeling.
This feeling caused me to reflect upon my own fasting rituals and how they could be enriched by applying some of the rituals that I had just witnessed with my Muslim friends. It didn’t feel like these interactions were new to anyone in this Turkish community. They felt steeped in generations of practice in this very sacred and collective purpose.
Even the children, who were typical children and played sports and other games with each other more than they ate, seemed to carry the spirit of this community tradition. This feeling was contagious and my son engaged with them in their games while my daughter comfortably observed from the side lines. The peace they displayed in their innocent play was a peace that I wished for all children around the world.
Since experiencing a piece of Ramadan, our families fasting rituals have improved for the better. My children and I better prepare for our ritual of fasting and experience our fasting on a much deeper level. Besides learning of some very beautiful and wholesome foods to eat after a fast, we feel less isolated in our ritual of fasting, recognizing a stronger connection to our Muslim brothers and sisters and a validation in our ritual of fasting and the enriching experience it is both physically and spiritually.
Thank you to Engin Sezen for inviting us to your Iftar dinner and I most earnestly look forward to next year’s Ramadan, hoping to participate in another Iftar dinner with you.