Bishop Claude Rault, Bishop Emeritus of the Sahara, shared this prayer by an early Muslim mystic, Rabi’a al Adawiyya, (717-801). It is a prayer that anyone could make their own. Bishop Claude has devoted his life to being present in dialogue and neighbourliness with the Muslims of Algeria, and to the study of Islam.
Oh my God,
if it is through fear of hell fire that I adore You,
then burn me in hell fire.
And if it is through hope of Paradise that I adore You,
then chase me out of Paradise.
But if I adore You simply for Yourself,
Do not deprive me of Your eternal beauty.
Oh my God,
all my desire in this world is to remember You
and all my desire for the world to come
is to encounter You.
That is how it is for me
but You: do whatever You will.
+ Claude Rault, Jesus, l’Homme de la Rencontre, Marseille, Publications Chemins de Dialogue, 2020, p31.
Eddie Gilmore has been reflecting on Lent with the help of a couple who run the local greengrocery shop. A significant conversation for me was with the woman who runs my local green grocer. She and her husband are Muslims from Pakistan and they observe Ramadan, which means not eating or drinking during daylight hours for about four weeks. I was speaking to her one time in the first week of that holy month and she seemed quite joyful and serene (her husband slightly less so, and by Week 4 he was visibly feeling the strain!). She remarked to me, “It’s a time to be purified,” and I find that a lovely image for Lent: a time to be purified, from whatever it is we need to be purified from, whether that’s unhealthy food or unhealthy thoughts or images or habits or addictions. One of my favourite lines in the whole of the bible is one we hear read out in church on Ash Wednesday. It is found in Joel Chapter 2: ‘Come back to me with all your heart.’ What an invitation! However much we mess things up, God will be waiting for us with open arms. Come back to me with all your heart. And we’ll always be given another chance; if we don’t get it ‘right’ this Lent there will always be next Lent.
The woman at the green grocer gave me another valuable insight into Lent when she explained that Ramadan was also a time to do good deeds to those in the community in need. Again this has biblical echoes for me, in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 58: ‘Is not this the kind of fast that pleases me…to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor.’
As well as being filled with numerous occasions for temptation, Lent also happens to coincide, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, with the magical season of Spring. Indeed the word ‘Lent’ is simply derived from the old English word ‘lencten’ which means Spring season. As we enter Lent the world is quite literally exploding with new life. The snowdrops begin the show, closely followed by the crocuses and daffodils, then a little later some very brave early tulips. Meanwhile the first specks of yellow appear on the forsythia, the trees and bushes begin to bud, the days lengthen and the birdsong starts earlier…and finishes later.
So let us not in this Lent season be too harsh on ourselves. Let us perhaps instead hear anew the invitation to come back with all our heart. Let us find ways of reaching out to ‘the poor’, whoever and wherever they may be. And let us rejoice in this incredible annual miracle of creation.
The Canterbury Diocese magazine ‘Outlook’ for this month tells how the Dean’s Easter sermon was interrupted. A note was handed to him, saying that the Canterbury Imam, Ihsan Khan, had brought flowers to demonstrate on behalf of local Muslims, their ‘respect for our Christian brothers and sisters who lost their lives in Sri Lanka’ a few hours earlier. ‘We pray for the victims and their loved ones. Our condolences, Canterbury Mosque.’
The Imam and his delegation were welcomed into the Quire to lay their flowers at the Altar, to applause led by the Dean.
Imam Khan said it was vital for the community in Canterbury to show the rest of the world that whatever our faith, or none, we are still brothers and sisters in humanity. he hoped the people of Canterbury would push solidarity forward.
Our Muslim Sisters and Brothers end their Ramadan fast today or tomorrow, depending where they live. Happy Eid!
Who among you sees the new moon appear will fast the whole month.
(Koran, 2 -The Cow-185)
The obligation of fasting is one of the major expressions of Muslim belief. Whoever fasts detaches from food, need for which seems to go without saying. He thus brings into his lived experience the conviction that it is not his to own, but something given to him. He emphasises that there is another dimension to human life than basic needs. Fasting reveals the fundamental relativity of man in relation to God and the ensuing obligation to give thanks.
For the whole of the month of Ramadan, the Muslim neither eats nor drinks from sunrise to sunset. The pace of work is slowed and the daily timetable is completely disrupted. The whole family gathers at sunset to break their fast and they go out for part of the night.
Clearly it is very difficult to sustain such a pace in Europe. As society at large does not provide for this practice, the Muslim will look for support in family and neighbourhood reunions for ‘the celebration of the nights of Ramadan.’
The greatest charity is the one accomplished in Ramadan. (Anthology of Tirmidy)
During this month, the Muslim pays a tenth of what he owns in solidarity, ((Zakat). This ‘legal almsgiving’ is one of the pillars of Islam.
How is the date of the first day of Ramadan determined? Ramadan is indicated by one of the following events:
1 – When the number of days in the month of Shaban, preceding Ramadan, reaches 30 days. The 31st is incontestably the first of Ramadan.
2 – When the new moon is visible on the eve of the 30th Shaban, it is the beginning of Ramadan and the fast must begin.
There is therefore a degree of uncertainty concerning the exact date, depending on the region. It underscores the relative nature of human certainties.
Let us try to understand others who differ in the expression of their beliefs and in kindness let us make this fundamental expression of their way of life easy for them. Uniting our thanksgiving with the prayer of other believers would be a sign that we are all children of the same God.