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Lessons for the C of E from Ramadan

by
09 August 2013

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From the Revd Linda Munt

Sir, - This is my first Ramadan in the parish of Attercliffe and Darnall, in the diocese of Sheffield. The Vicarage is almost next door to the mosque, and most of my neighbours are Muslim. The welcome that I got as I moved in was warm. Over the months, I have come to know the men, women, and children as they pass my door on their way to prayer.

Some years ago, I was fortunate to spend part of Ramadan in Istanbul. It was a remarkable experience as the streets came alive when the fast ended each evening, and when, after prayer, people would come together and enjoy a sense of festival. It was a time of celebration and family which complemented the discipline of the fast. I was interested to know how it would feel in Sheffield.

What was immediately striking was the commitment to keeping the times of prayer in spite of the heat and the length of the fast day in 2013. Seeing some of the older men who are retired walking slowly up the hill to the mosque to prayer has been truly inspiring. It has not been easy for them, but they have persevered. But alongside this came another surprise. My neighbours share with me their cooking for the breaking of the fast - knocking on the door to bring samosas and curries. For part of the fast, I have been unwell. Once they knew this, they also provided me with fresh cherries to wish me well.

When much has been written about the need for community cohesion, I felt it important to celebrate my experience of community and devotion, which has led me to return to a consideration of fasting, festival, and hospitality in the Christian tradition. The lectionary at this time encourages us to revisit again the question "Who is my neighbour?" and how I can care for him or her. In my parish, part of this will be responding generously to the generosity of my neighbours at Eid, but also making a point of sharing throughout the year in the informal conversations of each day, and celebrating, in Lord Sacks's words, the "dignity of difference".

I am also challenged to return to the place of fasting in our own tradition, and am reminded again of John Wesley's determination not to commission anyone as a Methodist minister unless he fasted twice a week. In the Qur'an there is the text:

"Oh, you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness" (2:183).

Living near the mosque is also the reminder to rediscover church as a place of community prayer day by day, not just on Sunday, and the need to encourage this once again in the spirit of the monastic Offices that underpin our own Anglican pattern of daily prayer - a pattern that has become too much the preserve of the clergy rather than being the work of the whole people of God.

LINDA MUNT
25 Industry Road, Darnall, Sheffield S9 5FP

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