Gathering in Peace: AR 2017 Ramadan Peace Dinner in Sarasota

On the 28th day of Ramadan, 2017, nearly 50 people gathered at the Sarasota home of Sheikh Ghassan and Sheikha Laila Manasra and their family for a multi-faith Ramadan Peace Dinner and interreligious dialogue, including Temple Beth-Sholom, St Thomas More Catholic Church, Rising Tide International, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Universalists, and others.

“Thank you all for coming to our home to celebrate Ramadan, the month of fasting, and you will see during Ramadan that the Muslims don’t eat the food – they devour it!” said Sheikh Ghassan amidst some laughter, as he welcomed everyone to the Manasra’s home.

Sheikha Laila Manasra and her daughter Zuhaira

Sheikha Laila welcomed the group to their home, saying, “I’m so happy that all of you are here. You are friends, and you are our family because we belong to the same family to the Abrahamic Family and we belong to the same source. I hope that we will continue to be one hand and one family.”

“Really, Laila put all her energy and all her love inside the food for us tonight,” Said Sheikh Ghassan.

“Tonight we’ll see how fasting is honored in the different religions…joining together in trust, familyhood, and friendship in a way that dispels the fear and negative feelings of these times,” said Rev. Chris Miller.

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, International Executive Director of the Abrahamic Reunion, taught the origins and scripture around the practice of Ramadan, reciting the verses of Qu’ran relating, especially “O Believers, you are commanded to fast as the people before you,” relating this to the Jews and Christians who fasted before Islam.

Some facts about Ramadan from Sheikh Ghassan:

  • “You shall have a month of fasting” – From the Qu’ran
  • No eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual connections from sunrise to sunset each day
  • “You will be comfortable if you eat quickly” – break the fast after sunset, don’t make your fast too long.
  • During Ramadan Muslims are asked to read through the whole Quran
  • The longest prayers of the year are the evening prayers during Ramadan, with 20 raqqas
  • A “raqqa” is a prayer sequence – reciting a verse from the Qu’ran, several prayers, kneeling, and rising
  • Traditional way to break the fast in Ramadan is with either water or dates. Often the two are served together in mosques.

Ghassan taught further that ”the meaning of siyam (fast) is “to stop” – and the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) says “God doesn’t need the fast of any one of you – but this is for you.” Why? Because it’s to stop doing all the bad things, bad deeds, bad behavior. You need to fast from these bad things – and the fast can finish the evil inclination, and to stop the bad ego.

Rabbi Michael Werbow of Temple Beth-Sholom followed with a lovely survey of fasting in the Jewish tradition, saying there are 3 main types of fasting in Judaism, during calamaties to appeal to God, for forgiveness as with Yom Kippur, and fasts in remembrance of harder times for the Jewish people.

In fasts in the face of calamity, there were two main examples: when the rain didn’t come during the rainy season, the longer there was no rain, on each new moon, a progressively deeper fast and then public fast would be order, to connect with God and appeal for the water; and with Esther, when she went to visit the king and reveal the she was Jewish in order to spare the Jewish people, she asked those around her to fast for extra prayer support of her tenuous visit with Mordechai.

Fasting for forgiveness is done most notably on Yom Kippur, which has been given as a day of forgiveness, but which is also a day when, similar to the Muslim tradition Sheikh Ghassan talked about, one is directed to “overcome one’s evil inclinations.”

And fasting for remembrance, for the 17th of the Jewish month of Tammuz, links to five terrible events in the Torah, including when the tablets Moses brought from Mt Sinai were broken and he had to go back to the mountain a second time, and when the city walls were breached, which is often thought to represent the precursor to the destruction of the Temple.

A couple notes about Jewish Fasting:

  • Several different types of fasting in the Jewish Tradition, with different rules and traditions surround each form
  • Some fast days also include fasting from bathing, there are two main full-day (24hr fast days); during other days fasting is from sun-up to sun-down

He concluded with a scripture from Isaiah which admonishes rule-driven, unfeeling and unspiritual, fast-makers, revealing that the true meaning of the fast is to “unlock the cords of wickedness” from society, to bring compassion to the hungry, and to bring the people back together with their Lord, and that those who fast for the appearance of piety to be noticed, while “continuing to oppress their laborers” and ignore the hungry, they would not be seen by the Lord (Isaiah 58).

“I googled Catholic Fasting – what comes up is all the rules and regulations…When I was a child that’s pretty much what I knew about fasting – We didn’t eat meat on Fridays – ever. But there was no other dimension to it – it was more like if you follow those rules it’s for your salvation,” shared Mary Homola from St. Thomas More Catholic Church. “But it came to me – we fast to give up the ordinary to make room for the extraordinary. We make room by giving up food – and giving up things we shouldn’t be doing anyway – and that makes room for the spirit – for the divine – to come into our lives.”

Mary went on to share with our group many layers of fasting in Catholicism and in her experiences, pulling from Pope Francis, Vatican 2, and the Sermon on the Mount.

  • In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes a connection between prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, that one without the others is just an emptiness.
  • “No act of virtue can be great if it’s not followed by advantage to others” – Pope Francis
  • Pope Francis asked the Catholic Church to “Fast from indifference to each other” during the Catholic fast season of Lent (40 days leading up to Easter, with two full fast days on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), and to challenge “the Globalization of indifference” saying that “when we fast from indifference we begin to feast on love”.

Sheikh Ghassan begins to devour the Ramadan food

After Mary concluded and a brief discussion about fasting took place, Sheikh Ghassan sang for the group the Adhan (the call to prayer) and recited some of the Qu’ran. The fast was broken at 8:34pm with dates and water – and everyone devoured the delicious food prepared by Laila and the Manasra family, staying and talking during dinner. A final peace prayer and chant was said with everyone forming a large circle holding hands on the back patio.