Fasting Friends

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, why are some non-Muslims fasting? The reasons--and people doing it--may surprise you.

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Some non-Muslims fast out of simple friendship: Yusra Ahmad, a Muslim, and Shira Taylor, who is half-Jewish, half-Christian, have fasted together throughout their four years at the University of Toronto's medical school--connecting them to “something bigger and greater” than the daily stresses of school, says Taylor. Ahmad then helped organize a "Ramadan Fast-A-Thon" on her campus.

Michael Hollcraft, a consultant and writer in New Carlisle, Indiana, is a Roman Catholic who was discouraged after an email dialogue with friends who suggested Muslims could not be “good Americans” because their religious tenets forbid it. He found himself warmly welcomed when he visited the imam of a local mosque to talk about his hopes to "build bridges" by fasting throughout Ramadan.

On October 2, at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in New York City, Muslims and Jews will break the Ramadan and Yom Kippur fasts together. For the second consecutive year, the Jewish and Muslim communities are breaking their fasts together to mark the fact that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, falls during Ramadan. After 2007, because of the two faiths' different calendar systems, the holidays will not overlap again for 30 years.

Not every non-Muslim who fasts for Ramadan does so for religious or political reasons. This year marks the 40th Ramadan fast for Lukman Clark, a Unitarian Universalist from Long Beach, California. Clark, whose first Ramadan fast was at Navy boot camp as he prepared to ship out to Vietnam in 1967, feels that fasting is about personal discipline and self-control, not religious ritual. So why synch his secular annual fast to the Islamic holy month? Clark says that knowing so many others are fasting at the same time makes him feel "general spiritual support."

Fasting during Ramadan may be gathering steam among non-Muslims, but are American Muslims happy that their tradition is being adopted by those who don't share their religious commitments? Imam Tahir Anwar of the South Bay Islamic Association near San Francisco, with whom a number of city officials have fasted since 2000, welcomes the trend, calling it "one of the most powerful gestures of friendship [non-Muslims] can make to us."

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