Ramadan and the Baptists

Hannah and Ike are cavorting through the Caribbean and John and Sarah are raising cane in Minneapolis. But the event attracting the most attention is Ramadan: not from us, of course—we are too consumed with the tropical storms off our southern coast and the political struggle shaping up for the fall. These two provincial concerns are overshadowed globally, however, by the holy month of Islam. More than one billion believers have altered their daily routine in adherence to one of the five pillars of Islam.

            Today is the third day of Ramadan. In the United States, Ramadan began at sundown on Monday (about the time our family was celebrating the two-month birthday of my first grandchild Sam—more about him in future blogs, probably on a pretty regular basis).

            These days the beginning of Ramadan is at least reported on major web sites and newspapers. There was a time when we were all ignorant about this religion and its festivals. Nine eleven changed all that. It is one of the good things to emerge out of that disaster (just like better levies in New Orleans have been a result of Katrina).

            While all attention was elsewhere over the weekend, the Islamic Society of North America was meeting in Columbus, Ohio. One small part of that gathering was a forum featuring Baptist and Muslim leaders. Robert Parham, Executive Director of Baptist Center for Ethics and editor of EthicsDaily.com was both a presenter and a reporter. This link will take you to many of the articles that were inspired by that meeting. They are worth reading even though they do not have the sensational element of the political conventions.

            What happens at the political conventions, though, impacts our relations with Muslims. A prominent Methodist minister in another state said this in an email to me yesterday: “Anymore, I’m not sure that it makes a lot of difference who is president.”  I thought that in 2000, as well; then we elected a president who took us to war against Muslims; he even called it a crusade.

            The trillion-dollar war has been an unmitigated disaster. Thousands of people have been killed and orphaned; millions have been displaced; ethnic hostility has been nurtured; and untold numbers of families—in America and Iraq—have suffered grief, loss, and hardship. It has been so sad; sadder still is the pathetic campaign to rationalize the hostilities with rhetoric about freedom, democracy, and global security. It will be centuries before relations between Christianity and Islam recover from this disaster.

            A few years ago Baptists were criticized for a promotional campaign that asked Christians to pray during Ramadan for the conversion of Muslims. This was seen as a particularly cynical act of disrespect. I propose a variation of that theme. During the month of Ramadan, let Christians pray for Muslims—for their well-being, for their safety, for their happiness—and let us ask Muslims to pray for us—for our well-being, four our safety, for our happiness. Good things happen when people pray for each other, things that, in the long run, might be more significant than the storms dancing off the coast of Carolina and the candidates posturing for political gain.

Tomorrow (Friday): Palin and the Pentecostals

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