Our Muslim friends are just coming to the end of Ramadan. They will now be preparing themselves for Eid al-Fitr – the festival of breaking the fast. This year, Eid will be Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. My church will be meeting with our local Muslim friends this Thursday to talk about Eid and probe into some of the differences between us.
So, with that in mind, here are some ways to connect with your Muslims friends and neighbours this week.
Celebrate Eid with them
The simplest and easiest way to connect with your Muslim friends is to ask to celebrate Eid with them. Find out when and where they will be celebrating and go along. Essentially, you will just be eating a load of food with them. It is a great way to gain an insight into what they believe, to show a specific interest in them and to open up doors to talk about what and why Christians celebrate and the difference between Muslim and Christian views of fasting.
Take some (vegetarian) food round
If you feel a bit awkward inviting yourself to asn Eid celebration, why not take some food round to your Muslim neighbour or friend and offer to break fast with them. Most Muslims have a strong sense of the importance of hospitality and will, most likely, invite you in to eat with them. Again, this shows love and care in bringing them some food whilst opening the door to talk about why they fast, the consistency of their view that fasting is great but celebrating the end of Ramadan, and the differences between their view of this practice and the Christian approach to these things. If you are planning to take food, it is best to bring something vegetarian and avoid any worries about halal preparation.
Ask how Ramadan went
We don’t find it weird to ask how Christmas went for Christian people (we don’t find it odd to ask non-Christian either) so we shouldn’t feel strange asking Muslims how Ramadan went for them. Some will have found it spiritually uplifting, others will simply be pleased they can eat food again. But it is worth asking them how they found it. If there are things that impress you about it – dedication to not eating or drinking for that long – then say so. If there are things you think would be especially hard, say that too. But just asking will show a level of interest in what is going on and will open up other doors to talk about your faith.
Don’t be scared to challenge perceived problems
Many of us are so scared of offending people that we typically don’t want to say the wrong thing. I remember, when I first went to a mosque and saw Muslims praying (they offered to let us watch then ask them questions afterwards), our group was so scared to say the wrong thing hardly anybody asked anything at all. The few of us who did speak felt the need to paraphrase every question with, ‘I apologise if this is offensive, but…’ There is a rightness to that to some degree, nobody wants to be actively offensive. But we can be so cautious that we either say nothing or ask asinine questions that don’t really cut to the heart of anything significant at all.
Instead, having been to many more mosques and spent much more time with Muslim people, most value frankness and honesty. It shows far more respect to be honest about where we see problems in their system of belief than it does to pussyfoot about pretending we’re all the same really. I’ve had far more fruitful conversations challenging a perceived issue directly than I ever have asking questions that focus on externals. I am yet to find the Muslim who gets inordinately offended by such questions (just as most Christians aren’t offended when Muslims and others challenge our beliefs, at least, we shouldn’t be offended!)
So be prepared to speak directly and frankly to the issues. If you want to know about something, ask. If you think something is problematic or inconsistent, say so. If you think something is interesting and reflects something positive, say that too. Just be honest and try to open up a genuine conversation in which they can be honest with you too.