During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast because a person must be as pure as possible in every sense, Muhammad Jameel, president-elect of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, told guests including Jews and Christians at an Iftar dinner, the traditional evening meal breaking the fast.
Jameel explained that fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, acknowledging that fasting began with Abraham, first mentioned in the biblical book of Zechariah.
About 200 people from the Washington and Baltimore areas attended the July 10 event at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, hosted by the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council.
Speakers included Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, who explained how Judaism treats fasting.
“Calling a fast day in a time of crisis is a way to relieve the crisis,” he said, noting that fasts have been traditional responses to plagues and droughts. The practice of refraining from food and drink has also been used to commemorate catastrophe, such as the Tisha B’Av fast that marks the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then by the Romans.
And Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, offers a chance to practice self-denial for more than 24 hours as a sign of repentance, presenting “a day in which [Jews] try to live totally on a spiritual plane,” he said.
Ramadan, which ends Monday, is a time of heightened charity, Jameel said.
“God says, The one who is closest to a fellow man is the one who is closest to me,” he explained. “You must be more sympathetic, more considerate” during Ramadan.
The Islamic Society’s great hall was partitioned by a seven-foot high white cloth into men’s and women’s sides. On the women’s side, Krayna Feinberg joined Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Amy Bram, director of Camp Milldale, in a conversation with Islamic Society members on the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam.
Another of the interfaith speakers, Rev. Fred Weimert, president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, said that fasting is not a significant tenet or a sacrament in Christianity. But he said that the Lenten practice before Easter of denying something essential for 40 days could be seen as a type of fasting.
“Fasting is a hungering for the homesickness of God,” said Weimert.
The Islamic Society hosts a break-fast meal for each of the 30 days of Ramadan, with between 200 to 300 people attending during the week, said Mahmood Sajjad, manager of the center’s Cafe Al-Rahmah. Attendance can shoot up to 500 people on the weekends.
The light meal began with juice, a fresh date, watermelon and pukora, a fried delicacy of potato and spinach. After a brief prayer service, a main meal consisted of Chinese noodles, Chinese rice, a chicken dish and pita bread. There is not a traditional Iftar menu, because Muslims hail from so many countries, explained Nasrim Rahman, who runs the Islamic Society’s Sunday school and a homeless shelter for women and children.
“Sharing is the main thing,” said Fauzia Tariq, a member of the Islamic Society for decades, who attended with her three children. “The stronger your faith, the easier it is for you,” she said of the fast.
sa Gerr is senior reporter for WJW’s sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.