Martin See shares what it was like taking part in an Iftar (breaking of fast) session attended by people from different religions
‘It is great to see leaders of various faiths breaking fast together and taking part in each other’s ceremonies, a Buddhist monk told me during a recent event organised by the Muslim Kidney Action Association (MKAC).
I certainly shared the sentiments expressed by Venerable K Gunaratana from the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society.
Thanks to an invitation from MKAC president Ameerali Abdeali, I was able to experience, in a small way, what Muslims experience when they fast during Ramadan, and how they break fast.
I was one of about 30 people from various faiths – including Canossian nuns, Christian pastors, Taoist priests, Buddhist monks, and Baha’i, Jain and Hindu leaders – who attended the Iftar (breaking of fast) session held at the MKAC premises in Telok Kurau on Aug 20.
MKAC has been organising this interfaith event for several years.
To understand better how Muslims fast, I decided to fast that day as well. I got up at 4 am, ate, and then went without food till 7.18 pm that evening when all of us broke fast.
It wasn’t easy. At about 4 pm, I started feeling very hungry and weak at work.
However, when I reached the Telok Kurau venue, I forgot all about my hunger as I saw people from various religious groups chatting away happily like old friends.
We then sat on the carpeted floor and representatives of the various faiths took turns to share. The religions that practised fasting drew parallels between their faith and what Muslims practise during Ramadan.
“The call to fasting is about reflecting on our lives to understand what is important, and connecting with God,” shared Infant Jesus Sr Maria Lau, president of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore.
“Our faith also has fasting…where we give up what we are most attracted to,” said Mr Girish Kothanri from the Jain faith.
“When I think of fasting I think of Gandhi who fasted for peace to unite India,” shared Mr Shriniwas Rai, a Hindu.
The breaking of fast started with prayers at sunset. Trays of dates were distributed and eaten as part of the Muslim fast-breaking tradition.
Participants then ate from a buffet of non-vegetarian and vegetarian halal food, placed outside the venue.
For me, I felt relieved that I finally had some food in my belly after more than 14 hours.
As people chatted at their tables, I got to know two people sitting across me – a Taoist woman and a Muslim man.
They asked me about my work in the CatholicNews, and how I found working in a Church setting after having been in the commercial sector.
This was my first time at such an interfaith event and I certainly found the informal and warm gathering – in which people share common ground and connect with each other – very meaningful. Those who spoke earlier were not preachy in their sharings but were candid and even cracked jokes.
I felt they had a genuine desire to show how their own faiths had similarities with others, in a spirit of universal respect.
As Master Tan Zhi Xia, a Taoist priestess shared with me, “I find this occasion has embraced all our similarities as well as our diversities. We need this community bonding.”’