Philippine Daily Inquirer
Ramadan is not Muslim Lent, but…
After a round of golf and while haggling over Nassau bets, I said in jest: “You know, guys, this is unfair. I thought that it being the Holy Week and deprived of eating meat, you would lose the match, much like during Ramadan when I can’t even play.”
Golf buddy Obet Robes frowned on my naivete and pointed out that my religion is stricter than theirs. We had a good laugh. But the banter provoked me to muse on these two ancient rituals and their relevance to contemporary problems.
My initial impulse was to confirm my longheld belief that Ramadan is not the Muslim Lent. There is no way we can equate Ramadan with Lent. There is a whale of difference. Ramadan is all about “shawm,” or fasting from food, drink, sex, etc., while Lent is a meditation on the sacrifices, crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. The 30- day fast is obligatory for all Muslims, but some Christians like the Baptists don’t observe the 40-day Lenten season. However, underlying these events are basic tenets and commonalities that can easily outweigh the differences. The Holy Koran teaches Muslims to find “common terms with the People of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians), that we worship only one God.”
These thoughts came to mind as Christendom concluded the observance of Lent last week and Muslims began preparing to welcome Ramadan next month (note the proximity of the dates of celebration). I hope that drawing parallels from these great tra- ditions will whet the interest of believers into joining the academic discourse, being part of the lifelong search for tolerance and harmony among humankind, and easing the global tension and distrust fomented by ultraradicals and suicide bombers.
From a layman’s perspective, there are core doctrines upon which these two great traditions are founded. Both teach piety and self-introspection or meditation during the period, in an effort to cleanse the self from sin and evil thoughts. Muslims call this the “if-tikaf,” in which they spend time in solitude at the mosque and the reading of the Koran and Hadith, or tales of the life of the Prophet Mohammad (PUBH). The message of patience and humility of Jesus Christ—who Muslims call “Nabiyullah Isa” and revered as one of the prophets of Allah (SWT)—endowed with healing powers and miracles, resonate among Muslims.
The two religions teach self-sacrifice, with Christians recalling the travails of Christ and Muslims listening to sermons at the mosque about the lonely and sometimes bloody campaign of Mohammad(PUB) to free the Meccans from the shackles of idolatry and polytheism, like when they were stoned at Taif for proselytizing Islam. The devotees are enjoined to give alms to the poor and reminded that all, rich or poor, are equal before the eyes of God (Allah). Ramadan ends in the Eid al-Fitr festival, when the Ulama say that those who survived the agony of fasting are likened to newborn babies without sin. Lent ends with Easter Sunday, the feast of the Resurrection celebrating a new life in Christ.
In the Philippines, the observation of Lent is not complete without the crucifixion and self-flagellation rituals. Muslims have a parallel rite. During Ashura or the tenth day of Muharram, the month of mourning, Shiite Muslims hold a procession where they flog themselves with a whip tied with small knives and chains; some even cut the skin on their forehead and back. This practice commemorates the martyrdom of Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, who died in the Battle of Kerbala. We Sunnis do not observe this ritual.
There really are no substantial differences between the two faiths. Both were founded by the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim to Muslims) and are aimed at salvation from hell. Let’s harken to Pope Francis’ call for the unification of all religions.