The Meaning Behind the Fast
Now in its 10th year, the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council hosted guests from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. communities for a special Iftar dinner, the traditional meal breaking the fast that occurs daily during the month of Ramadan. About 200 people from within and beyond the Islamic community attended the July 10 event at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, including clergy who were invited to speak about the significance of fasting in their respective religions.
“Calling a fast day in a time of crisis is a way to relieve the crisis,” Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. said in offering the Jewish view, noting that fasts have been traditional responses to plagues and droughts for thousands of years. The practice of refraining from food and drink has also been used to commemorate catastrophe such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, he pointed out.
Finally, explained Feinberg, the holiest day of Yom Kippur 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.”
The Islamic Society’s great hall was partitioned by a 7-foot high white cloth into men’s and women’s sides. GBMC director Raees Kahn welcomed the crowd and introduced Muhammad Jameel, president-elect of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Jameel explained that fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, acknowledging that fasting began with Abraham, first mentioned in the Book of Zechariah.
Jameel said that during Ramadan, fasting is observed because a person must be as pure as possible in every sense.
“One must restrain from evil speech and hearing evil things,” he said, adding that Islam requires more charity during the month.
“God says, ‘The one who is closest to a fellow man is the one who is closest to me,’” explained Jameel. “You must be more sympathetic, more considerate” during Ramadan.
On the women’s side of the divide, 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 differencesbetween Judaism and Islam.
Another of the interfaith speakers, Rev. Fred Weimert, president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, acknowledged that fasting is not a significant tenet or a sacrament in Christianity. But he said that the Lenten practice prior to 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 Café Al-Rahmah. Attendance can grow 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 descend 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.