Hunger, re­flec­tion: good for the soul

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Opinion - Michael J. Daly is edi­tor of the editorial page of the Con­necti­cut Post. Email: mdaly@ ct­post. com.

The imam was very thirsty.

I knew this not only be­cause as he be­gan his re­marks the other night, he said, “My throat is dry, but I can’t drink wa­ter,” but also be­cause as he spoke, he swal­lowed a cou­ple of times and it was clearly un­com­fort­able.

But there would be no wa­ter at this mo­ment for Imam Khizer Ali on this night, in the mid­dle of Ra­madan, the holy Mus­lim month­long pe­riod of prayer, fast­ing and in­tro­spec­tion.

No wa­ter un­til sun­set, which on this night would oc­cur at 8: 21 p. m. — 40 min­utes away at this point — and the if­tar, the meal that breaks the daily sun­rise to sun­set fast, would be­gin.

Khizer Ali, Amer­i­can- born, is a young man, 22, a stu­dent at the Is­lamic Univer­sity of Mad­i­nah, in Saudi Ara­bia and he was the guest speaker at the 2018 In­ter­faith if­tar held in the base­ment of the mosque at 877 Park Ave., the for­mer First Con­gre­ga­tional Church.

Some 70 peo­ple sat at round fold­ing ta­bles in the base­ment. It was an eclec­tic mix that in­cluded Fair­field First Se­lect­man Michael Te­treau and Fair­field Po­lice Chief Gary MacNa­mara, young Mus­lim women in col­or­ful hi­jabs, Shak­our Abuzneid — one of my table­mates — a pro­fes­sor in com­puter sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Bridge­port — Cass Shaw, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Coun­cil of Churches of Greater Bridge­port; the Rev. Sara Smith — an­other table­mate — se­nior min­is­ter with the First Con­gre­ga­tional Church and a host of other folks.

Ali wore a crisp white tu­nic, which he noted was of cul­tural, rather than re­li­gious, sig­nif­i­cance. It was sort of a “clothes don’t make the man” ref­er­ence, the point be­ing that it’s not ma­te­rial trap­pings that make a good per­son. ( He did take the op­por­tu­nity, though, to com­pli­ment Te­treau on his tie.)

“What I’m wear­ing is not my re­li­gion, he said. “Judge me by my ac­tions.”

And that was the gist of his talk, re­volv­ing around a theme that would be fa­mil­iar to a per­son of just about any faith: We are created equal and the only fac­tor that makes one per­son bet­ter than an­other is their ac­tions in de­vo­tion and kind­ness.

And he was force­ful in his re­pu­di­a­tion of the Mus­lims who, un­der the false cover of re­li­gion, com­mit vi­o­lence.

“The Is­lam is telling us not to kill an ant. How can a Mus­lim say, ‘ God is or­der­ing me to kill some­one, God would never ask us to kill a per­son. No re­li­gion that comes from God would do such a thing. God’s re­li­gion tells us to love one an­other,” he said.

The un­avoid­able fact, he said, is that “there are bad Chris­tians, there are bad Jews and there are bad Mus­lims,” he said.

The night’s events were or­ga­nized by the Tent of Abra­ham com­mu­nity, a group that in­cludes lead­ers of the Greater Bridge­port Chris­tian, Jewish and Mus­lim con­gre­ga­tions.

Set on ta­bles in the base­ment of the mosque were plates of dates, a tra­di­tional food for break­ing the fast.

Ra­madan this year be­gan on May 16, trig­gered by the ap­pear­ance of the cres­cent moon, the sym­bol of Is­lam.

So as we ap­proach June 21, the long­est day of the year, the fast­ing gets a lit­tle longer and a lit­tle longer with each pass­ing day.

I’ll think of it as Lent in the Chris­tian tra­di­tion, also a time of self- de­nial and re­flec­tion.

Some 1,000 fam­i­lies are mem­bers of the Greater Bridge­port Is­lamic com­mu­nity, by the es­ti­mate of Ahmed Ebrahim, pres­i­dent of Bridge­port’s Is­lamic Com­mu­nity Cen­ter and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ac­count­ing in the Dolan School of Busi­ness at Fair­field Univer­sity.

The cen­ter last year bought the church. At the time, the Rev. Smith de­scribed that for­mi­da­ble steeple as “a bea­con of hope,” not only to her con­gre­ga­tion but also for the 800 to 1,000 peo­ple who came to the church for a meal, per­haps, for other ser­vices and for, well, some hope.

Ebrahim said at the time that re­gard­less of what sym­bol perched atop the steeple, it would con­tinue to serve as a bea­con of hope.

At 8: 21 p. m., we dove into the dates. The imam in­haled a cou­ple of small bot­tles of wa­ter. And then came the call to prayer, the mel­liflu­ous Ara­bic chant­ing of an un­seen voice.

Above, where pews and an al­tar once were, men al­ter­nately stood, knelt and pros­trated them­selves as Imam Ali led them through the Is­lamic prayer.

Then it was back down­stairs for some se­ri­ous chow, plat­ters of rice with pecans, meatballs, pea soup, bread and de­li­ciously spicy chicken.

Would that the good will in the room could spill out into the world.

Dif­fer­ent no­tions of the almighty are fine as long as that no­tion in­cludes peace on earth and good­will to all.

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