I thank those of you who responded to my initial column last month introducing myself and The Reporter’s request for me to submit a monthly presentation/discussion of religious/spiritual topics.
I have already received two requests for speaking engagements. One was due to interest in entering more deeply into dialogue with and understanding our Muslim brothers and sisters. As such, I will be arranging a presentation/discussion with a good friend who is an Imam. (Islamic cleric/leader)
As I write this month’s column I am keenly aware that our brothers and sisters within the Islamic faith are now well into one of their most sacred yearly celebrations: Ramadan. This practice is one of the Five-Pillars (Tenets of faith) of Islam. It is celebrated in remembrance of Muhammad’s first receiving Divine Revelations concerning the Koran.
Muslims worldwide will be involved in a month of fasting and special prayer. Devout Muslims will not partake in any food, drink, smoking, sexual relationships, etc., from sunrise to sunset each day. Such practices of special prayer/fasting occur in all religions/forms of spirituality, from the beginning of time.
The Jewish faith celebrates Yum Kippur, many Christian denominations practice the 40 days of Lent, etc. Such discipline is meant to draw one closer to God and thus, hopefully, closer to one’s brothers and sisters.
In a world where we daily hear about divisions, conflicts and hatred between people of different cultures/religions, I believe that we need to emphasize our common bonds and those practices/beliefs that can unite us.
Since 1996, I have been taking my World Religion Class to visit different places of faith/worship. One of these is a mosque. I am always amazed at how so many of the students are hesitant about this visit, but even more amazed when they leave the visit with positive attitudes.
As they are given the opportunity to enter into discussion with people of different faiths/beliefs, they usually leave transformed, if not at least open to, and respectful of people of different backgrounds than themselves.
I am also a columnist for an interfaith publication. I attempt to provide the Christian perspective; a Rabbi offers the Jewish and an Imam the Islamic. The publication is titled: “Al-Hikmat,” which translates as wisdom.
True wisdom comes from life experiences, human experiences face to face and shoulder to shoulder with people, perhaps even people of different faiths/backgrounds and experiences.
When I begin my World Religion class each semester, I tell the class that within just one semester they will never learn everything about all religions/spiritualities. I illustrate that it is impossible for one person to know everything about their own specific religion.
I tell them that if by the end of the semester they have come to understand and at least respect people of different backgrounds/religions/spiritualities, then I feel that I have done my job as a teacher.
May each and every one of us grow in true wisdom.
The Rev. Tom Graf is pastor of St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Islamorada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.