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A Catholic teenager comes under fire for fasting Ramadan

In the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from food and drink from sunrise until sunset. Most Muslims will admit how hard that task is, especially when Ramadan happens in the summer. So it was a surprise for me to hear about a Christian teenager who decided to fast for the whole month of Ramadan in solidarity with her Muslim friend.

According to oregonlive.com, Jordan Pahl, a17 year old Catholic, decided to take her friend Dahlia Bazzaz’s challenge to fast during the month of Ramadan

It all started last year during the Christian fasting period of Lent, when Jordan complained to Dahlia about her promise to give up sweets for 40 days.

“(Dahlia) was like, ‘Well, Ramadan is 10 times harder than Lent,'” Jordan says.

Jordan jokingly told her friend she might try fasting for Ramadan. But the joke became reality when Jordan decided to follow through on it last summer.

“If you challenge her, she will almost do everything,” Dahlia says. “I kind of admired that.”

Jordan’s family supported her in the fast and didn’t see it as an act of rebellion. She doesn’t see Islam and Christianity as competing forces but believes that one must be willing to try what they don’t know. In a response to a blog that attacked her decision to fast the month of Ramadan she wrote:

I am in no way suggesting that Islam or their fasting practices are better or worse than those of  Catholicism. What I appreciated about the philosophy of Ramadan was that it really helps you to examine the way you live … The whole purpose of Ramadan is to understand the plight of those who have no food and have no water for an entire month. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy of Islam, you have to admit that understanding the situation than those less fortunate than yourself is an honorable mission.

Jordan drew some attacks from some Christians who claim that her participation in the fast is an act of worship of another God. They used an out of context verse from the Hebrew bible to prove their point

I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no strange gods before me (Exodus 20)

The Catholic school Jordan attends also came under fire for having many non-catholic students and for tolerance of others religious practices. This is ironic because these people are often the ones who oppose the building of Muslim schools in America.  Now, they also don’t want Muslims to attend Christian schools. Apparently, fundamentalists don’t believe in Muslims’ right to education or religious practices. These are also the same people who criticize some Muslim countries for limiting the rights of Christian groups. Such double standards show their lack of belief in democracy and right of worship, and strong conviction that they have superior beliefs.

What amazes me most about such people is that those who appear to be most religious, and self appointed guardians of the faith, seem to be the least knowledgeable of their own religious books and traditions. I don’t understand how a Christian can stand against compassion from their study of Jesus’ character. He dined with the prostitutes and tax collectors and spent time with the Samaritans who according to the Christian gospel were viewed as inferior to the Jews at that time. Yet some Christian fundamentalists’ view of Christianity today is far from the tolerance existing in Jesus’ teachings.

The same problem exists with Muslim fundamentalists. The reason some Muslims fear freedom of religion is the consequence of such freedom. They believe in conformity and fake unity even at the price of violence and murder. However the Quran is clear about the importance of diversity and cooperation between all humans and not only Muslims.

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other) (Al-Hujurat 49:13; Yosuf Ali translation).

The story of Jordan and Dahlia should be an inspiration for how different religious groups should coexist together. We can learn from each other’s faiths instead of using it to spread hatred. This year, Jordan and Dahlia are fasting together again. May it be an easy fast.

Alex Cromwell contributed to this article

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    1. Robert Eisen

      Aziz–A current student of mine who is Christian, but only nominally so, has fasted for the first 10 days of Ramadan to show solidarity with his Muslim friends. There are many things like this going on that are under the radar and get little publicity but indicate that there is a lot of desire out there to break down barriers between religions.

      Robert Eisen
      Profess of Religion
      George Washington University

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      Politics and religion aside, hats off to you for fasting a full month. I think I’ll stick with fasting six (not in a row) days a year….:-)

      Reply to Comment
    3. Rob,
      These are the stories that we must highlighted and brought to the public. Thank you for sharing your student story. These stories should not stay under the radar.

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    4. David

      Aside from the fact that this was a matter of dare and an exploration of a good friend’s religious practices, there’s been a lot of syncretism in the world’s religions. Pieces of Isam appear in Judaism and Islamic thought is said to have influenced Jewish thought and philosophy. Doesn’t Christianity include the Jewish Old Testament? Don’t Muslims hold Jesus as a prophet?

      IMO religions are all dialects that represent the same religious impulses. It is impossible for them not to absorb little bits from each other. And it is not unreasonable, particularly in a multicultural world, for people of faith — and good faith — to inform themselves of their friends’ and neighbors’ faith. In fact, it’s a great thing.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lana

      David, very well said. In Islam we believe that a prophet was sent to all nations of the world by God. Jesus is a prophet that we believe in and the prophet that we await for his return to earth. Religious people of the world that have not skewed their beliefs – have so much in common that they dwarf the differences if we would only open our eyes, hearts, and especially our minds. ie. feed the poor; pray; give thanks; truthfulness; honesty; trustworthiness; help those that need help; don’t lie, steal, cheat, gamble, or hurt others; give charity; attend religious services; and we all reinforce the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is “a great thing” and if we would help one another and respect one another the world (humankind) would be an even greater thing.

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    6. bob Burgess

      Aziz writes, “Such double standards show their lack of belief in democracy and right of worship, and strong conviction that they have superior beliefs.” Comment: fundamentalists see an America falling apart; they are more frightened than angry. They are absolutely duped, leaning on Republicans to restore the days of Ozzie and Harriet—as misguided as leaning on a bruised reed.

      Aziz writes,”I don’t understand how a Christian can stand against compassion from their study of Jesus’ character.” Comment: Elijah would scold us today for walking with half a foot in Christ and a foot and a half in consumerism, nationalism, capitalism, individualism, on and on. Too much of the church in America cannot see Christ through all such filters. Gandhi said, “The West does not know Christ.” Lamentably, he was right. Many Christians cannot even name the first book of the Tanak let alone the first four Gospels.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      I wonder if Dahlia is soon going to start attending Church, going to Mass and celebrating Christian holiidays and how her fellow Muslims would feel about that.

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    8. Sylvia

      I grew up in a Muslim country, and attended a secondary girls school with a Muslim majority (something like 95%).
      When Ramadan fell during the academic year, I remember going to school without a sandwich or money to buy food – to show respect, the parents said (and also because eating in public could get you in trouble).
      In other words, it was possible to eat but only in the home. She could have done just that not bring food to school and shown that way her respect without going the extra mile, which could eventually be misconstrued by some as part of a conversion process, and perhaps get her in trouble if that’s not what she had in mind.

      But if all she wants is express solidarity with other faiths, I can’t wait for her to fast Yom Kippur.

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    9. Deïr Yassin

      Sylvia as always doesn’t address the content of the article: this young girl had a Muslim friend with whom she wanted to show solidarity. Maybe she had no Jewish friends. Maybe because as where I live, the city in Europe with the biggest Jewish population (and Muslim too), non-secular Jews stick to themselves and have their own schools, from kindergarten to high-school, and interact with nobody but their own.
      The mosques during ramadan are open to everybody to come share the iftar with the Muslim community. I can’t wait for the synagogues in my neighbourhood (and they are numerous) to do the same on Jewish holidays, I would surely go there, and I would even leave my keffiyeh at home 🙂

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    10. Ben Israel,
      Actually Dahlia attends a Catholic MASS every month at her Catholic school. The assumption that people have that Muslims would not make the same efforts for reconciliation that Jews or Christians do is a MYTH.
      I have many Muslim friends who went to Passover Seder, and to Christmas midnight Mass…etc

      The division is not Muslims vs. Jews or Christians. It is between those willing to live in peace and taking action to make this happen vs. those who are doing all they can to perpetrate hatred and violence. The question before us is which camp do we choose to be part of.

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    11. Ben Israel

      Islam is a missionary religion, isn’t it? Of course the mosques would be open to draw potential converts, wouldn’t they? Judaism is not a missionary religious, but Jewish charitable organizations help all who come for help.

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    12. Ben Israel,
      I like how you took Christianity out of the conversation now. Christianity is also a missionary religion yet you don’t seem to suggest that Catholic schools are there to convert Muslims and Jews. Just because the religion has element of missionary focus doesn’t mean everyone is focused on it.

      I wonder how you feel about all the Christian evangelicals who help and support Israel such as “Christians united for Israel” whom open goal is to convert Jews to Christianity. The state of Israel is fully in support of such groups.

      Most Muslims don’t engage in missionary work and therefore your statement is based on a stereotype and is not factual.

      You seem to suggest that when Muslims do good, then it is because they want to convert non-Muslims. When they do “bad things” it is because they are just bad people. I guess there is nothing Muslims can do to change your mind about them.

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    13. Ben Israel

      Aziz, you last comment has left me confused. Why would Dahlia, as a believing Muslim attend a Catholic Mass? The Mass is, as I understand it, not being a Catholic, a statement of belief in the nature of Jesus and the meaning of his crucifixion. Muslims, although saying that Jesus was a prophet, does not attribute to Jesus the characteristics and qualities Christians say he has. Thus, a Muslim participating in the Mass is making an explicit statement contradicting the teachings of Islam.
      Now, I am aware of the inroads post-Modernist thinking has made regarding religions which says really that all religions are equally true or equally false, what is important is how your ‘feel’ about it and if you like practicing some rituals of a particular faith that is okay and then you can mix in some other rituals of some other faith and everything is fine. This strikes me as a philosophical mishmash that really doesn’t mean anything. As I understand it, a good Muslim fasts during Ramadan NOT because it makes you identify with the hungry of the world, but because the Qur’an says to observe it. The world “Islam” means “submission” and the believing Muslim submits to the commands of the Qur’an. It may be a wonderful side effect to use the uncomfortable hunger pangs it brings about (I know because I experience fasting as a Jew and I can appreciate what internal strength it must take to do it every day for a month) to deepen one’s conciousness of other’s suffering but that is not the reason a Muslim fasts.
      Traditionally, people of various religions CAN live together in peace while still, at the same time, being convinced of the exclusive truth of their own religion, because it is recognized that all the major religions reflect basic civilized human values which leads their followers to be able to live in a civilized way, thus leading to mutual respect, but this is a far cry from claiming that it is fine to mix together different religious beliefs without really being committed to what each one’s believers are supposed to think is the ultimate truth of that religion. I can fully understand that believers in one faith would be uncomfortable with fellow believers going around and trying a smorgasbord of other faiths’ rituals leading to the danger of massive confusion.

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    14. Palestinian

      (A Muslim participating in the Mass is making an explicit statement contradicting the teachings of Islam), says who Sheikh Ben Israel ?
      (As I understand it……to observe it) , obviously you lack the bliss of understanding
      (I know because I experience…. a Muslim fasts) , I , I , I ..it isn’t about what “Shylock Ben Israel” thinks or believes, keep your extremist misunderstanding to yourself .Thats what we need ,a Zionist to judge and lecture us about our religion and intentions.
      Aziz , I feel sorry for you and my people for living around such mentalities and creatures .

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    15. tenchlion

      Amazing how Aziz’s main point here in this article has been somehow circumnavigated in some of these comments.
      In one of the highlighted text boxes, was that the two girls had each participated in the other’s “fasting” ritual in an act of solidarity and to understand one another.
      Ben Israel’s citation about “why a “good Muslim” fasts” is in direct opposition to the main point of this article.
      What is the reason a good Jew fasts on Yom Kippur?
      What is the reason a good Catholic fasts on Lent?
      I fast on Yom Kippur every year. I know that many people of different sects of Judaism than my own would *not* consider me a “good Jew” for any number of reasons, but my own personal connection to my faith and the reasons I adhere to any level of observance isn’t to necessarily quantify myself as a “good Jew” but so that I can better understand the world, better empathize with others, and to do tikkun olam.
      The danger in making these kind of blanket statements: a smorgasbord of “other faiths’ observations,” danger of falling into the “wrong” (?) faith due to conversion from open masses, etc: I don’t get it.
      Two people who are friends, people who care for one another, people who care for the world: fundamentally the only true connections with others is through empathy, and sometimes this empathy needs to be ritually made.
      We can talk smack on religions aside from our own all day long (to what end, exactly?) but the point here is that a girl is being criticized for attempting to empathize with her friend, a girl she cares for, due to Islamophobia, really. That’s the fact of it.
      Any criticisms of these girls’ behavior is about Islamophobia. Perhaps there’s an accompanying article somewhere about Dahlia observing Lent and criticising her. Do you think so? I doubt it.
      I love articles like these. It is good to see that people are trying to connect with and understand each other by sharing experience. If one can’t acknowledge that this is the only way to ever have peace at any level, we’re all fucked. There will be people who always want to expose rifts and make conflicts, even in the face of something which appears to me like a Catholic-Muslim version of the Jewish idea of tikkun olam.
      Be kind!

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ben Israel

      For the record, are you saying that mainline Islam views Muslims participating in religious services and rituals of other faiths is completely acceptable? Are you saying that a Muslim may attend church services and attend Mass? If I am making an incorrect statement, please clarify what mainline Islam says about interfaith activities that involve Muslims praying in the manner of other religions.
      I am aware of the story of how the Caliph Umar, upon entering Jerusalem, refused to pray in the church of the Sepulchre of Jesus, not wanting to create a precedent which would lead to Muslims claiming it as a Muslim holy site. It seems to me that he was insisting on a separation betweeen the faiths.

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    17. Sylvia

      Of course she wants to show solidarity with her friend. But it so happens Ramadan fast is not the exclusive property of her friend and so she is at the same time expressing empathy to all who fast for a month.

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    18. Sylvia

      David wrote:
      “Pieces of Isam appear in Judaism”
      Please explain.

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    19. tenchlion

      And expressing *empathy* to those different from ourselves is a liability how?

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    20. Philos

      Ben Israel, please between the infanticide, incest and murder to the genocide, bigotry and misogyny let me know where religion (any religion including Buddhism) ensures “that all the major religions reflect basic civilized human values which leads their followers to be able to live in a civilized way.”
      Religion is poison. Religious extremism is a WMD. The only times religious groups lived together in sectarian harmony is when nobody was particularly religious and everyone shared a bit of everyone else’s religious beliefs and traditions.
      I’ll save you all a lot of time and argument. There isn’t a god. We only have one life and one planet and one reality. So enjoy your life, respect the environment and be a decent human being so that all our shared reality is a humane one.
      Save religion for the holidays, fairy tales and telling your children about times when people murdered each other over whose prophet’s imagination was better. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    21. Sylvia

      Dear Yassin
      “I can’t wait for the synagogues in my neighbourhood (and they are numerous) to do the same on Jewish holidays, I would surely go there”
      Are you sure? Many of the Jewish Holidays commemorate historic events that took place in ancient Israel. Would you want to express solidarity and participate in those?

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    22. Deïr Yassin

      @ Sylvia
      Are you saying that ALL Jewish holidays are purely navel gazing tribalism and that there is no universalistic message ?
      As far as the ‘hictoric events’ are concerned, I think I’ll stick to ‘mythical events’ (cf. Finkelstein & Silberman) but that would of course undermine the ‘God-gave-us-this-land’ and other Zionist fairy tales.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Sylvia

      Sylvia said:
      “Many of the Jewish Holidays commemorate…”
      Dear Yassin response:
      “Are you saying ALL Jewish holidays are purely…”
      Enough said.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Deïr Yassin

      A thetorical question, Sylvia, that was why I put on the caps lock.
      And to be honest, I don’t know if ALL Jewish holidays are tribalist and navel gazing, but YOU are.

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    25. Deïr Yassin

      Erratum: RHETORICAL

      Reply to Comment
    26. Ben Israel

      This piece might indeed have been a heartwarming story of two friends reaching out beyond the religious divide between them. However, the title of the piece puts a jarring note to this. I don’t know if Aziz chose the title himself (in newspapers, the editors choose the headline, not the journalist who writes the story, often leading to confusion in which the headline does not accurately reflect what is written in the article), but, in any case, the subtext goes beyong the simple human interest item I mentioned above.
      The subtext tells us about how in spite of what many people might think in America, there are many Americans who are interested in experimenting with Islam and that even something that might prove intimidating to the curious outsider or potential convert, the month-long fast of Ramadan, is not deterring interest in Islam among Americans.
      Secondly, the headline and story tell us of how the Catholics associated with Jordan are “intolerant” of her forays into other religions, with the subtext of how Christianity is supposedly not so tolerant, or at least is not as tolerant as Islam presumably is. That is why I asked above how Muslims would feel about having their children experiment with other religions.
      Aziz then claimed that he knows many Muslims who attend religious services and ceremonies of other religions (he also denounced Muslim religous extremism) but that doesn’t answer my question, and in fact, I am convinced that mainline Muslims, like mainline members of Judaism and Christianity would take a dim view of such activity, AND RIGHTFULLY SO. I am not talking about the once common practice that supposedly existed in the Middle East of people of one religion visiting the homes of their neighbors of other religions during their holidays to partake from festive meals, I am talking about actually participating in religious services and rituals. I am talking about participating in activities that directly contradict the basic beliefs of the religion of the visitor.
      I have the uncomfortable feeling that the the intended message of this piece was to supposedly show “see Islam is a wonderful tolerant religion and the Muslims subscribe to the post-Modernist views of all religions being more or less the same and that Islam is compatible with the values of the Left/Progressives, and that American Christianity is a primitive, intolerant throwback attempting to prevent their followers from going along with the Left/Progressive flow.”

      This following link is to a PEW international survey showing in the world where religious toleration is most and least displayed. The US of the Catholics criticized in Aziz’s piece is among the most tolerant, and minority Islam is thriving in that majority Christian country, whereas I will let you read what part of the world is LEAST tolerant of other religions and the minority religions there are in shart decline:


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    27. BOBOBOBO

      @Ben Israel you do realize the PEW Research Center is as reliable as Fox News?

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    28. Elisabeth

      Ben Israel: Why are you so ‘concerned’ about what ‘mainline Islam’ says, when ordinary Muslims simply use their own judgement? I have noticed Muslims from our neighborhood (Netherlands) attending the big Christian festive days in our local church. Enough said.

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    29. Ben Israel

      Bobobo-Who says?

      Elisabeth-What country do you live in?

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