On July 23 I accompanied Fr Al Baca to a mosque in Garden Grove for the “Breaking of the Fast.” This is a Muslim custom connected to the observance of Ramadan. Ramadan lasts for an entire month and entails fasting from dawn until sunset. Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, swearing and sexual relations. A little food and drink are usually taken before sunrise and after sunset a moderate dinner is eaten. Throughout the day prayers are recited especially from the Quran.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was our host. Dr. Siddiqi has on many occasions worked with the Bishop’s Conference, the Vatican and represented the West Coast Muslim Community to such events as the Assisi gatherings in Italy. Along with representatives from the Episcopal Church community, the Lutherans and Latter Day Saints we were joined by other Catholics and the Muslim community from that mosque.
After we arrived Dr. Siddiqi showed us the mosque center after which we were seated in the parish hall where we ate from a simple plate of dates, a customary part of the Breaking of the Fast. He then gave a presentation on fasting from the Muslim perspective. Dr. Siddiqi asked if I might say a few words and I was happy to give the Catholic understanding which was in great part like that of Muslims. I stressed the biblical roots of fasting, the penitential aspects, the process of conversion, and the works of charity that are expected to accompany all fasting and penance.
After our presentations, Dr. Siddiqi led us to the mosque where about 15 minutes of prayers were offered by parishioners while we sat in chairs at the back and observed. The men gathered below while the women went upstairs to the balcony to pray. This mosque is open to Muslims from all parts of the world, sort of a pan-Muslim community and the difference of cultures bore this out. Part of the custom is that when people enter a mosque for prayer, shoes are removed. Fortunately, Fr Al had alerted me to this and I made sure that my socks were in good condition (the only part of a Christian that should never be “holy”)! To my surprise, Dr. Siddiqi asked me to say a few words to his parishioners after they had concluded their prayers. I thanked them for receiving me to their community during this holy time for them and for showing all of us such warm hospitality.
After the prayer time as I was putting back on my shoes, Muslims came up to me and Fr Baca and thanked us for joining them. I was taken at the goodwill and warmth that was expressed over and over again by them to us. We then joined the other religious leaders for a dinner of spaghetti, salad and vegetables.
A few things struck me about the evening. First that the Muslim community was genuinely delighted that the Catholic Bishop of Orange had joined them during this important time for them. Secondly, I was reminded that the relationship between Muslims and Catholics has been strong and positive in our Diocese for many years, something for which I am very grateful. I experienced the warmth of the Muslim leadership: Dr. Siddiqi repeatedly addressed me to his people as “our bishop”. This is something I did not expect and deeply touched me.
Muslims in our country struggle to carve out a positive place among us. There are also elements in the Muslim community that are not positive and I think for people like those I met in Garden Grove this creates a very difficult challenge. I think we need as Catholics to support any good initiative that comes from any sector of society, religious or not.
The Second Vatican Council in its document, Nostra Aetate, states regarding the Muslim community: “Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom” (NA 3). Tuesday night was an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to focus on the present and to reaffirm our friendship even amid the important questions and conflicts of our day. It was a small gesture for me to be a part of the Garden Grove mosque’s Breaking of the Fast. It is a gesture that I think will bear good fruit now and in the future!