A Ramadan for Such a Time as This
Outside the church my family attends there's a large sign that proclaims: "we are a church for such a time as this."
For many Muslim-Americans, I can only imagine that this year's Ramadan carries similar connotations. While religious holidays often lead us into self-reflection, it seems this year our religious holidays are leading many people into an external reflection of the world we live in. This is healthy. My personal faith leads me not just to question my relationships with friends, family or even my creator, but to also, as my Pastor puts it, "confess my part in the pain of the world." And there is so much pain.
This Ramadan, however, I believe this external reflection needs to in turn lead us into renewed self-reflection. As we question the decisions made by our leaders, we must also ask whether we ourselves are contributing to the toxic atmosphere of division, polarization, scapegoating and fear in our country. In short, as we ask, often rhetorically, "who are we going to be as a people?" we shouldn't forget to ask "who am I going to be as a person?"
In an era of fear and violence, from London to Portland, the easiest thing in the world is to retreat into our own homogeneous communities.The organization I direct, the One America Movement, believes we should do the opposite. As a people, yes. But also as individual persons.
We bring people together across religious, racial and political lines to serve together in their communities and then to have a meal together and a conversation together. We are building a movement to lift up the values of respect and inclusion and inspire Americans of all kinds to confront fear with hope. To confront isolation with human contact and polarization with respectful engagement.
Our first project brought together Muslims, Jews and evangelical Christians to serve at a men's shelter in Washington DC, have a meal catered by Syrian refugees and have a 2 hour plus conversation about religion, politics and American society. It would have been so easy to not do any of that. Our politics, our media and our social media push us daily to see entire groups of our fellow Americans as evil, stupid, ignorant, selfish, strange, dangerous...and most of all, at fault for our problems. We are constantly urged to put up walls and fight. To see our existence in the context of a good vs. evil struggle against "them."
But we can do so much better.
"Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him," Martin Luther King Jr. once said. This idea is at the heart of what we do. I as a person cannot control the beliefs or actions of other people (or even my own kids, as I discover every night when I try to get them to go to bed). But I can control my own actions. I can choose to see people as labels and dismiss them or I can choose to get out of my bubble and get out into the world and engage them. In so doing, I can choose to nourish or damage my own soul.
This Ramadan, as I watch my Muslim brothers and sisters engaging their neighbors in the face of so much hate and misunderstanding, I'm inspired. We as a people can do so much better. I, as a person, can do so much better.
Outside my church hangs another banner too: “Jesus didn’t reject people. Neither do we.” And that means all people, not just the ones who think like me, worship like me, look like me or vote like me. Like all banners, we can choose to admire the elegance of the message it displays. We can even turn it into a bumper-sticker and put it on our cars. We can tweet it.
Or we can live it.
Andrew Hanauer's reflection comes to the Parliament of the World's Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at info@ParliamentOfReligions.org, or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.