Saturday, September 21, 2013

Iftar Party at St. Xavier's School, Delhi
Santosh Benedict SJ

"We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers", said Pope Francis in a letter signed by him from the Holy See to greet our Muslim brothers and sisters at the end of Ramadan.

In the month of Ramadan, Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Quran. They thank Allah for the gift of the holy book that guides them to worship one God and obey his holy will. It is also a month of celebration and social solidarity. It is a happy month, so to say… not a glum month of fasting! Muslims indeed look forward to this month. Muslims experience nearness with God and with one another during the fasting days. Ramadan is the month of renewal and forgiveness. Islam teaches Muslims to forgive one another. The recitation of the Quran [tarawih] urges Muslims to ask for forgiveness. On Id al-Fitr, Muslims celebrate the forgiveness of God. In the practice of halal-bi-halal, Muslims visit their parents and friends to ask for forgiveness for any wrongs they committed against them.

Ramadan is also the month when they experience hunger. It is a time for intense awareness of the plight of the poor. During this month they take a special interest in feeding the poor. At the end of Ramadan they make a special offering called zakat al-fitrah so that poor too can celebrate the Id al-Fitr joyfully.

What better way to put this in action than to hold an Iftar Party on 4 August at St Xavier's, a Jesuit school in Delhi. Iftar party is the community meal, hosted every evening in the month of Ramadan, where the Muslims ritually end their fast with traditional food. Fr Tom Kunnunkal SJ, President, Islamic Studies Association, in collaboration with Indialogue Association organized this event. Fr Victor Edwin SJ assisted them. Indialogue Foundation is established by the members of Hizmet movement, inspired by Mr Fethullah Gulen to foster unity among Islam and other religions of the world through education. 

Indialogue is an action and research-oriented dialogue and peace foundation, founded in New Delhi in 2005, the imagination and fortune of a group of Turkish and Indian people inpired by Mevlana Jalal-ad-Din Rumi, ventured to promote and encourage local, national, international, inter-civilizational, intercultural, interfaith, inter-communal and inter-ethnic dialogue; Love, tolerance, understanding, reconciliation, harmony, co-existence, tranquility and peace; to encourage intellectuals and scholars and to provide opportunities for a comprehensive and deliberate thinking, brain-storming on humanitarian topics and issues; conduct proactive studies and activities on the causes of wars and violent conflicts, develop tools for early recognition of tensions, and formulate conflict mitigation and peace-building strategies. Now the association has cultural and educational centres all over the world.

At the event, Fr Tom Kunnunkal and Mr Bilal, President, Indialogue gave peace messages to the small gathering of representative of Indialogue, Muslim friends from the neighborhood, administrative staff of St. Xavier's school, staff and students of Vidya Jyoti College of Theology, Delhi and members of the Focolare Movement. Mr Masroor, who works as librarian at Vidya Jyoti said that it was a good occasion for people of the two faiths to come together and especially to celebrate an Islamic function in a Jesuit school. He also mentioned that Muslims believe that if a poor person is even offered a glass of water, Allah would bless them. Fr PR John said that he was impressed by the way the Muslims prayed, though the words were limited to a few verses from the Quran, the reverence captivated his attention.
In unveiling her new vision for relationship with Muslims, the Catholic Church in her Vatican II document Nostra Aetate declared: “Upon the Muslims too, the Church looks with esteem”. The document tells us the reason for this esteem. “They adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, maker of heaven and earth and speaker to men. They strive to submit wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just as did Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself”. Islamic Studies Association is firmly grounded on Gospel spirituality as taught by the Council documents. 

In fact on 3 August, the Imam of the neighborhood Mosque played host to more than twenty members of the staff and students of Vidya Jyoti College at their place. It was a privilege to host them once again at our premises the very next day. Both the events, in a small way aimed at building relationships of respect and trust with Muslim brethren and vice versa. Carefully and sensitively nurtured relationships have the inbuilt spirituality to work for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace building. Let's hope that this 'expression of esteem and friendship' may spread all over, especially in the hearts of every person. 

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