Today began like many others. Despite thinking that I should not look at the news so early in the day, I look anyway. It has been years since I have looked to cable news for anything; that is far too upsetting a landscape, one meant to incite and upset more than inform. That leaves me with national newspapers, many of the sort that people refer to as “fake news.”
Today I – wisely or unwisely – read an article about the prime minister of an Eastern European nation. It seems prudent to leave his name out of this post, but you can read it here. Calling this an article is incorrect, it falls more closely into opinion or, as it is described by the paper, perspective. Yet, certain facts remain, this person is someone steeped in the kind of nationalism that points me over and over again to a certain Anne Lamott quote. (She claims the words were said to her by a Jesuit priest friend Tom Weston, SJ, but it seems that Anne gets the credit.) So often, those who fall prey to such ideologies rationalize it in God, and that is just absurd. Anyway, why am I calling it nationalism? It appears to simply boil down to racism and hate. What nation wants to be associated with such things?
If you find yourself thinking that the United States is careening into such a sphere, you might be correct. I’m hoping that you are not, but frankly, I worry about this quite a bit. It’s a craze that appears to be sweeping the globe these days, in most disturbing ways. As for me, I am obsessed with not allowing this to happen. That said, I am a bit lost on how I can change any of it. I pray a lot.
Last Wednesday, God – who loves everyone – offered me a chance to marinate in some hope for a few short hours, reminding me that things can be different, and in fact are different. It depends on where you stand. I was also reminded that things should be different. How did this happen? Luckily, I got to go to a place where the things are indeed very different! I was invited to the Islamic Center of the Capital District (ICCD) for Iftar. This particular Iftar is an interfaith event, one that I have been blessed to enjoy in the past. How deeply grateful I was to be present on Wednesday! If you are wondering more about what Iftar is, this is the meal eaten by Muslims after sundown during the holy month of Ramadan. From sun up to sundown, Muslims are called to refrain from taking in any food or drink, not even a sip of water!
Sitting with my coworker to my left, my great rabbi friend Matthew Cutler on my right. It was wonderful to see both Bishop Ed Scharfenberger and Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard present! There was a dizzying array of people of faith all around us, from various Christian denominations, Jewish friends, Sikhs, a Rastafarian priest, and others. We were greeted by various lay members of the mosque leadership. Then we heard from Imam Abdur-Rahman Yaki. If you have never met Imam Yaki, you are missing out. He is a most joyful, generous soul who radiates the love of our Divine Creator in his every move. He laughs easily and is full of hospitality, his sense of humility is quite profound. We also heard from and got to meet the newest Imam to join ICCD, Imam Patel.
The talks and prayers focused on the same message, over and over. Allah, who is the very same God worshipped by Jews and Christians, offers mercy, compassion, love, and peace. We are to be the face of that God in the world – reaching out to and helping one another. One particularly moving moment was when Imam Yaki spoke about fasting during Ramadan, and what that meant to him when someone who was truly hungry came to him for help.
The fast is broken at the appropriate hour with prayer and by eating a date. After prayers we headed downstairs for a bountiful meal catered by Kebab Masala in Clifton Park. The room was buzzing with joyful conversation and communing around tables and food – what more human act is that?Every member of the mosque is always hospitable, one is met with warm smiles, hellos, and greetings of Salaam-Alaikum. The entire evening was a an incredible experience and a reminder of hope in times of despair. I am thankful to both Rabbi Cutler and to the ICCD for them allowing me to use their photos here today.
While leaders like the one I read about and mentioned at the beginning of the post, along with others who spout racial and ethnic hatred will always be among us, but I do believe that most people do not feel this way. Whether called by love of God or just our inner compass, I truly believe that the majority of people see the gifts of diversity found in the multitude of all people. We know that God created each of us with love, and for love. That is what my night at the Iftar reminded me of, and that filled my heart with joy. It was truly a gift to be awash in the glow of such goodness in a place that is radiant with God’s love. This is how light illuminates and overcomes darkness. What other choice do we have? Why would we want another choice? There is only once choice, that is to see the light, and be the light for one another.