Most of what I know about the month of Ramadan, which began last week, I learned from Eden and Amir.
Twenty-five years ago, those two cousins were in the same class at Grant-White as my son, Ben. They lived next door to the parsonage and, with Ben, the three musketeers were in and out of my home a lot. So when the month of Ramadan rolled around, I’d hear them talking.
Ben: You mean you can’t eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset?
Amir: We have to get up early to make sure we eat breakfast before the sun comes up.
Ben: Don’t you get hungry?
Amir: Sure. Especially when the month of Ramadan comes in the summer, when the days are longer.
Ben: Wow! We don’t have to do anything that strict at our church.
As the boys got a little older, my son’s questions got a little deeper. In many ways, the boys were three peas in a pod. They listened to the same music, passed around the same jokes, and tried smoking cigarettes behind the garage. At the same time, Ben was beginning to use his contact with these two Muslims to question his own beliefs.
Ben: So why do you fast like that for 30 days? What’s it supposed to do?
Eden: Our imam tells us that it teaches patience and humility.
Amir: My father says that we are supposed to pray even more than the usual five times a day and help the poor, like at the homeless shelter.
Ben: Do you really pray five times a day?
Ben: Do you get in trouble if you don’t?
Amir: Our imam says that God sees what we do and He will reward or punish us.
As the boys became adolescents, their attention turned to girls, of course, and it made a big impression on my son when he learned that fasting meant no sex as well as no food.
As far as I know, Ben never was attracted to Islam and Eden and Amir showed no sign of wanting to become Christian. I asked Eden’s family to visit our worship service once, but they politely declined.
Thirty years earlier, my best friend was a Catholic. I’d ask him what going to confession was like and why they didn’t eat meat on Friday. I learned that although my friend’s beliefs were a little different than mine, what we were taught regarding right and wrong was almost exactly the same.
The three musketeers were learning the same thing.
There’s a huge, contentious debate going on right now over a proposal to build an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero. Those opposing the construction say the idea is offensive, because the terrorists on 9-11 killed 3,000 people in the name of Allah.
The imam who wants to build the center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has denounced terrorism every time the subject comes up. So do all the Muslims I know. In fact, Rauf wants to name the center Cordoba after a city in medieval Spain in which Muslims – who were in control at the time – and Christians and Jews got along pretty well.
New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg put his political future at risk when he came out in support of mosque. He appealed to American’s higher principles when he said, “We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.”
A couple of years ago, Pope Benedict declared that Islam is not the enemy of the church. Secularism is. In fact, Muslims are allies of Christians in trying to restore civility, reverence and respect to society.
I resonate with what Mayor Bloomberg and His Holiness say. But when it comes to my attitudes toward people of different faiths, what has made a bigger impression on me is my experience with Eden, Amir and their families.
Different beliefs. Same moral standards. Good neighbors.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.