(RNS) — COVID-19 restrictions may still be keeping Americans physically separated as the pandemic seems to be winding down, but online events designed to bring Muslims and members of other religions together have flourished during Ramadan this year.
For years, U.S. Muslim and interfaith groups have used the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer to organize cooperative events tied to the daily breaking of the fast meal, called iftar. Online events for last year’s Ramadan, which also fell in April and May, were more impromptu affairs, as interfaith groups scrambled to arrange online replacements for long-planned events.
“It’s difficult to re-create the electricity one finds in a packed room full of friends and neighbors,” said Amjad Mahmood Khan, national secretary for public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, whose third annual Ramadan Open Mosque iftar was held April 30. “While some of our mosques have reopened, we decided as a community not to hold any large in-person public gatherings again this year.”
But Khan believes virtual events have their own virtues. Online events generally have higher attendance than in-person events and attract more nationally known speakers, including lawmakers whose speeches are piped in from their statehouses.
The move online also shifts the emphasis away from the food to a focus on the dialogue — which is, after all, the point.
The American Muslims & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council has been holding interfaith iftars for seven years. The organization’s April 21 Interfaith Iftar ceremony included video appearances from members of Congress from California, New York and Massachusetts and an impressive line-up of religious leaders.
“The pandemic has compelled us to reflect on our lives to learn to be a little more forgiving, a little more patient and a lot more compassionate,” said Anila Ali, president of AMWEC, during her remarks at the event.
Both Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and Rabbi Hyim Shaner, of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, pointed out in their addresses to the AMWEC iftar that fasting is a practice several faith traditions share.
Shaner compared Ramadan to the idea of returning and repentance, or tshuva in Hebrew. “We are really good and godly at our core, sometimes we forget this,” said Shaner. “Fasting can be a wonderful tool in the process of tshuva.”
“It’s always important for Christian leaders to accept (iftar) invitations,” said the Rev. Johnnie Moore, who attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA’s April 30 iftar. “I take solace in the fact that nearly 2 billion people every year turn their attention toward God during the month of Ramadan.”
Moore, who sits on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and was one of President Trump’s informal evangelical advisers, has represented the evangelical community to Muslims for years.
“We believe different things, but we share an adoration for God. While many people around the world focus on the role religion plays in dividing us, I believe entirely that shared faith in God is the ultimate meeting point,” Moore said.
This article has been corrected. An earlier version referred to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as an agency of the U.S. State Department. It is an independent federal commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. Religion News Service regrets the error.