To our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world:
As-salaamu ‘alaykum! Peace be with you!
On behalf of the Special Commission for Dialogue with Islam of the Order of Friars Minor, it gives me great pleasure once again to extend our greetings to you as you celebrate of the holy month of Ramadan.
This year our letter comes to you at a time when together we are experiencing great sadness and struggle in the world as we remember the many people of all faiths who have succumbed to the COVID-19 virus over the past few months, and the many more who are suffering illness even now. We pray with you for those who have died – may Allah have mercy on them – for those who mourn their passing, and for the health and wellbeing of all people.
[more]In addition to claiming the lives of so many and disrupting our daily lives of work and study, and caring for our families, it has also dramatically affected the way we pray and worship. Around the world, holy places are empty. In Jerusalem, the synagogues, churches and mosques – in which Allah’s name is so often invoked (al-Ḥajj 22.40) stand silent. At the Two Holy Sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, the adhān calls only local residents to prayer instead of believers from around the world. In Rome, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica remain closed to Catholic pilgrims and the Christian faithful. In cities, towns and villages around the world, people of faith are unable to pray as a community in their houses of worship due to social distancing and lockdowns, enforced by governments and religious leaders to prevent the spread of the virus.
This situation is made even more difficult because holy days and this holy month must be observed behind closed doors, contrary to the spirit of these celebrations. The Christian community worldwide celebrated Holy Week and Easter without the richly symbolic liturgies to which so many look forward, without the communal observances that remind us how to walk in the way of the Messiah Jesus (upon him be peace!).
Now you are observing the month of Ramadan in a similarly simple and stark fashion. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of Ramadan which traditionally draws people together in great numbers to break the daily fast with iftar. I am again reminded of celebrating Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt many years ago when entire city blocks were set with tables to feed the faithful, and of visiting the homes of friends, one after the other, throughout the night. This year, such practices are impossible and forbidden out of concern for public health.
We in the Franciscan family, friars and sisters, who have celebrated such times with you and with Muslim communities throughout the world, will also feel the void this year. Sharing iftar with you in your homes and mosques has allowed us to come to know you, not only as neighbors and as partners in peace-building, but as brothers and sisters, as the children of Ibrahim (upon him be peace!). These experiences have enriched our lives of faith and prayer.
Even as we are physically separated from our respective religious communities and from one another, we must encourage one another to spend this time in frequent and deep prayer, remembering our God who calls each one of us into relationship with Him through prayer, for this is at the essence of our religious observances. I am reminded of the Christian tradition that Jesus (upon him be peace!) spent forty days alone in the desert before he began to publicly proclaim the Gospel. Likewise, we know that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!), used to wander alone in the mountains and caves outside Mecca, and that he received his first revelation from God on one such occasion. Holy men and women, Christian and Muslim, have throughout the ages, withdrawn into solitude to be alone with God that they might hear the Word of God more clearly.
During these sacred times, Allah also calls us into relationship with one another. Both the Holy Bible and the Glorious Qur’an tell us that these relationships must be expressed with righteous deeds, particularly in care of the poor and hungry. Although physically distant from one another now, we can nevertheless remain united with one another in a spirit of peace, justice, and love, caring for one another in a world that often seems careless and even cruel. Even in the midst of this pandemic, we remain painfully aware of the hardships that Muslims and Christians suffer in many parts of the globe simply because they are Muslim or Christian. The pandemic has only exacerbated these woes in countries where Muslims and Christians are minorities suffering discrimination and persecution.
During this Easter season and the month of Ramadan, let us be united in our faith in God who does not abandon us to darkness and death, but who sends to us His holy prophets and reveals to us His Holy Scriptures to illumine our hearts and minds, and assure us that He will bring life from death. Our respective celebrations of Easter and Ramadan both use the symbol of light to express this faith. The fire and candle used at the Easter Vigil and the lantern of Ramadan (Arabic, fanous) remind us of the light of faith and hope in the midst of the darkness.
We wish you a most blessed Ramadan. Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem!
Br. Michael D. Calabria, OFM,
Special Assistant for Dialog with Islam
Members of the Commission for Dialog with Islam:
Br. Manuel Corullón, OFM
Br. Ferdinand Mercado, OFM
Br. Jamil Albert, OFM