Monday, October 20, 2003

Ramadan, Rezas, Rationing

In 2003, while working at the Center of Concern, a global social and economic justice agency with a multi-faith staff, Jay Cuasay decided to keep a prayer journal during the month of Ramadan as part of a hopeful process of interfaith and interpersonal relations between Christians and Muslims in a post-911 world. The introduction to the journal presented here, addresses the issue of how to approach prayer from two different monotheistic faiths and is addressed to his Muslim colleague and friend.

Ramadan, Rezas, Rationing
By: Jay Cuasay

I was justifiably put off balance by your perceptive question asking me how you were to regard my interest in fasting with you during Ramadan. In my initial response to you, I was responding to your question(s) which made me forget that my original starting point was something else.

I look at fasting as part of an overall regimen of disciplined, devoted prayer. Certainly there are prayers, and one prays, and these are formally distinct from eating or not eating food. But I think it is also true that fasting prepares one’s being to be more prayerful, that fasting in fact “feeds” one’s prayer.

Having said that, your comments regarding how to interpret similar actions (two people fasting) from two different religious perspectives (Muslim and Catholic) during a Muslim holiday is still worth asking. But my focus, and my intention, was rather to be joined in prayer. Again, formally we may pray differently, but isn’t it possible that the significance of this action is perfected by the One? And thus, our dialogue is more about what we as humans have come to understand, have come to attribute or appropriate as personally meaningful.

There are at least three levels to what I am saying. The first level is the personal level of prayer in which prayer is seen as essentially a personal action unifying one with the ultimate source. Fasting certainly heightens this. It is one’s own body that experiences this, not someone else’s or something external to one’s being. Certainly on the level of actual prayer utterances, only the one praying says the words, no one can say them in your place.

The second level is the social level. Prayers and praying can be a communal act. This tends to be complicated when those praying are not of the same denomination. But the question this poses to me, at least for monotheistic religions, is what is in the religions themselves that would make sociality between these religions, particularly the sociality of communal prayer, impossible? Clearly, this is the beginning of inter-religious dialogue for those interested, though it is not as clear what the results or goal would even be.

The third level, which in some respects, to my mind is an addressing and fulfilling of the first two, is to recognize the distinction between the orientation of a religion and we who are oriented by it. In other words, distinguishing between the real presence of the One and the actions we do in preparation for or simply before the One. For me, the point of view is not how should you regard a non-Muslim fasting during a Muslim religious month. Instead, I ask, when we both pray together what is it that we are actually experiencing in view of the One? Is it only personal (level 1)? Is it social (level 2) but still grouped differently? Or at the third level, is it possible that we can experience the workings of the One present in a shared work of prayer?

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