New Zealand gets in the spirit of Ramadan – interfaith solidarity

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SHAFAQNA - A Christian minister wants to break down negative stereotypes about Islam and he is going to observe one of the religion’s most holy festivals to do it.

Francis Ritchie, based at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in east Auckland, will be taking part in the first two weeks of the sacred, month-long event.

Ritchie says with recent media hype around a lot of negative events associated with Islam – such as the campaign by Islamic State -  it is time to engage in a different way.

Having previously fasted for Lent, Ritchie isn’t worried about the practical side of not eating all day but there are a myriad concerns and sensitivities from both Christians and Muslims which he will have to juggle.

He is not observing Ramadan as a first step to becoming Muslim nor is he beginning to head down any sort of “strange path” as some have suggested. “I guess there’s always concern about engaging something really different. But most people have been really receptive.”

Ramadan this year begins on June 17 and runs for 30 days. Observers abstain from food, drink and other pleasures between dawn and dusk. The point is to focus the mind on prayer and spirituality and free it from distractions.

Charity is considered a big part and many Muslims choose to donate more than usual during the month.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children and those who are unwell are excused from taking part.

Anwar Ghani of the Federation of Islamic Associations says Ritchie is doing a lovely thing to engage with Muslim New Zealanders.

“I think, it is brave of him to connect with Muslim community on the ground of spirituality and promoting better understanding and bond of humanity between people regardless of faith.”

Ghani says messages of goodwill are often received from the Vatican and many Christian leaders before and during Ramadan.

Ritchie has blogged that he hopes doing Ramadan  will help build relationships and understanding between two religions.

“Too often we hold those who are different from us at a distance. At its worst this can lead to degrading others who don’t fit our image of what life is supposed to be and the results can be ugly… I want to see my Muslim friends with the eyes of God. Standing at a distance discussing Islam only through the lens of headlines won’t achieve that. So I want to step into their lives.”

A Muslim friend will be helping Ritchie through the experience and they will occasionally break their fasts together at sun down. He says the Muslim people he has spoken to were encouraging but as with any community, there might be those who didn’t like what he was trying to do.

Ritchie will not be taking part in the entire Ramadan period because of family commitments in early July.

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