Fast-A-Thon has become an annual event, normally, held during the month of Ramadan on university campuses all across North America. It's purpose is to create awareness of the Islamic way of life as well as world hunger. Students are invited to join their Muslim brothers and sisters in a one day fast, which according to the Islamic tradition is no eating or drinking during the hours of daylight. Students are then encouraged to donate what they have spent on food and drink to be given to charity and are invited to break the fast with other Muslims at the end of the day. The first fast-a-thon took place at the University of Tennessee in 2001 after 9/11 to help dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Since then it has become a national event that includes a large number of colleges and universities throughout the US but so far I haven't heard of it in Britain.
I like this idea of fasting in some way or other as an act of solidarity, not only with those who are hungry but also with those who are persecuted for their faith. It helps us enter into the world of another without too much effort.
Another lenten story I read about was an American woman who decided to wear the hijab for the forty days of lent. According to the BBC report Jessie Eagen, who works in a Church in Illinois said she wanted to put herself in someone else's shoes and hoped that her practice of solidarity and empathy with the Muslim community would foster interfaith dialogue. While the people in her Church were very supportive she had some antagonistic comments on social media that rather shocked her and one Muslim woman's blog I read thought that all she had to do to understand Muslim women was talk to them. At first I wondered if I could do that next lent but don't think I'm inclined to. For one thing I have worn the hijab - on a visit to the Islamic city of Marawi in the Philippines at a time when westerners were being kidnapped and we had to be protected by armed guards. I found it difficult to manage and my attempts were anything but the sophisticated way many Muslim women wear their scarfs. I've also worn a religious habit so know what it's like to be pointed at and laughed at and I wouldn't want to go back to that in any way. i like the freedom to express myself as i want. Perhaps though I would join in World Hijab day, especially if I lived in a country like France that wanted to ban it in public.
But lent is now over and Easter is here. This year the Jewish festival of Pesach happened to be on Good Friday. In the Middle Ages this would have been the cause of violence against Jews and many Jews learned to keep away from public view on the last three days before Easter - days that are specially solemn in the Christian calendar. Thank God those days are over and Christians are once again recognising the Jewishness of Jesus and their familial relationship with the Jewish community. This year I was particularly blessed in being invited to share the Passover meal with Jewish friends. It was a long affair but a wonderful example of how to celebrate and remember within a family situation. I wish our Christian eucharist was more familial. I was very impressed because the seder ( the order of service that we used) referred constantly to injustices in our world. At one point it is customary to dip a finger in wine and drop it on a plate as the ten plagues are recited. We did that but we also followed with naming 10 plagues in our modern society – injustice, poverty, violence, human trafficking etc. We opened the door to welcome Elijah but also the poor and the stranger. There was no way this was just looking back on a past event. It was also offering inspiration and encouragement for future action. For me this was the highlight of my celebration of Easter. Both festivals are about freedom, remembering past graces, aware of present failures. Both festivals are about claiming our dignity as God's people and knowing that we can make a difference in the world, following in our respective traditions, respecting eachother and strengthened by our common bonds of love and friendship. This is surely the gift of Pesach and Easter. I am so happy to have experienced it this year.