Breaking The Fast From Love: A Queer Pastor’s Reflection On A Ramadan Iftar Invitation
By Rev. Katie Ladd
On Wednesday evening, I drove across Lake Washington from the city of Seattle to the municipality of Redmond to the Muslim Association of Puget Sound’s (MAPS) annual Interfaith Iftar to break fast with Muslim brothers and sisters.
As an out Queer United Methodist pastor, breaking fast in Muslim space with people from many faiths and a few of no faith offered the best witness to peace that I could imagine. It was an act of transgressive love that defied the voices that pit minority against minority and that desire to splinter and divide our communities. I chose not give violence another victory; it would not compel me to hate my neighbors, and so I headed to the mosque.
On Sunday evening, in the aftermath of the slaughter of 49 Latino people at PULSE, a gay dance club in Orlando, several phone calls were made threatening MAPS, which is the largest mosque in the region. And, it wasn’t the only mosque in the Seattle area to receive such threats. On Tuesday, a man was arrested for threatening the mosque in my own neighborhood. Walking up to MAPS’ building, extra police and security were evident. The threat still hung the air. Breaking fast together was now a political as well as a spiritual act.
For those who don’t know, iftar is a breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, all able bodied Muslims refrain from eating, drinking (even water), and they also refrain from other things like bad thoughts, swear words/false speech, smoking, and even sex. Children, pregnant or nursing women, travelers, the elderly, and those with disabilities are excused from the fast. Ramadan commemorates the giving of the Quran to Muhammad. Like fasts in all religions, it is designed to turn the adherents gaze away from the distractions and excesses of this world toward more spiritual matters. Special acts of charity are encouraged during this time. People rise early to eat and drink before the fast begins. At the end of the day the iftar, which usually begins with eating dates and drinking water, breaks the fast.
When guests arrived at MAPS at 6 PM, we were greeted first by security and then by overwhelming hospitality offered by the MAPS community. We picked up our name tags, were welcomed, and shown where to go. Like so many other faith communities, the gathering hall is also a gym. Festively decorated tables sat in front of a dais and in the midst of basketball hoops. Water and dates were already on the table, but they lay untouched until after the 9 PM sunset. Because this was a special interfaith iftar, most of the gathering consisted of three types of speeches – celebration of Muhammad Ali, who had just passed away and is much honored, basic education about Islam and Ramadan for interfaith guests, and some self reflection for the Muslims in attendance. Non-Muslims were handed pamphlets that explained prayer – the whys and whats of Muslim prayer. The handouts also translated the Arabic into English. The speakers gave a brief primer to Islam – fundamental terms, the 5 Pillars of Islam, and the relationship between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. For the Muslims, they explored self-restraint, gave thanks for their faith, and expressed outrage that non-Muslims usually only learn about Islam from those who pervert it. They talked about how to combat misunderstandings about Islam and how to be good, proactive neighbors with majority culture.
The theme for the night was “Responding, Not Reacting, to the Challenges Around Us.” While the theme had been chosen well in advance of the evening, the recent events across the country and right here in our region changed the content and tone of the gathering. After a welcome and introduction and keynote addresses by Maha Elgenaidi, founder and CEO of Islamic Network Group (ING) and Aneelah Afzali, attorney and community activist, attendees were given an opportunity to ask them questions, which ranged from, “What does Islam say about homosexuality?” to “How do we combat anti-Muslim bullying in our schools?” to “How can Christians, Jews, and Muslims learn more about each other?” Table conversations made friends of strangers. At sundown, prayer was offered and the dates and water were consumed.
Muslims left the banquet hall for the prayer hall for evening prayer. Non-Muslims were invited to watch. After prayer, which lasted about 7 minutes, people reconvened around tables for a meal of rice, veggies, soup, chicken, and salad. The event was over at 10. Around my table were a number of people, including a rabbi, two attorneys, two Christian clergy, and two members of MAPS, one of whom was my host Aneelah Afzali with whom I have sat on interfaith dialogue panels.
The shooting in Orlando was never far from surface. It was mentioned many times. It was lamented. The dead were mourned. The carnage was named. And, the speakers made special care to mention that members of MAPS had attended the city-wide vigil in Seattle on Sunday evening. Many, in solidarity with those giving blood in Orlando, had given blood in the Seattle area as well.
There we were – Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, brown, black, white, and all hues in between, American born, immigrant, children, youth, adults, queer, activist, worshiper, neighbor, seeker, the confused, the mourning, the frustrated, the angry, the loving. We were gathered there together. Deep inside of me I was hoping that the fast we would all be breaking would be the fast from love that seems to have gripped our country.
I wanted us to seize the abundance around us and to fill up the hunger that we have with belonging and care. I wanted us to break the fast of deprivation and fear and become, if for only a moment, a community where we do not turn one on the other and do not look upon each other with suspicion and hate. And, I think we did that. Just the fact that I, an out Queer Christian pastor sat at a table with Muslims and Jews where we lamented violence, mourned death, resisted prejudice, and dared to hope for peace – that was the breaking of fast that I needed. It was the act of transgressive love that I needed. And I hope that in some way that those who shared a table with me also, through the hospitality of the people at MAPS and in the conversation around the table, found the power of defiant and transgressive love to carry us back to face the threats that assail us from within and without.
Rev. Katie Ladd is the pastor at Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington an out lesbian, and a social justice activist. Which Voices leave you wanting to hear more? Email us ideas for interviews at [email protected]