The Seeker: Fasts lead Mormons to admire Ramadan tradition

As a practicing Mormon, I have a tremendous admiration for the fast undertaken by Muslims the world over during the holy month of Ramadan.

Mormons, too, have a (less challenging) fast practice as a part of their faith. Beginning in the earliest days of the Church in the 19th century, Mormons fast for about 24 hours (skipping two meals), originally on the first Thursday of the month (but now on the first Sunday) as a community, although individuals might fast at other times for certain purposes.

The money saved from not eating those two meals is then to be given as a “fast offering” for the poor. Fasting is to be undertaken with a special purpose (say, for the benefit of a member of the community who needs help), and special prayers are a part of the observance.

Having that experience on a small scale with religious fasting and experiencing the self-control and spiritual discipline that derives from the practice, it is easy for me to admire the more rigorous fasting practices that accompany Ramadan for Muslims.

In 2003, Rob Davis, a Mormon and the then chief of police (now retired) of San Jose, California, was addressing a group of some 7,000 Muslims during Ramadan. He suddenly realized that they were all hungry, and he was not.

“It just dawned on me,” he later said, “if I am truly going to understand the nuances of this religion, I should join them in this fast.” And so in 2004 he completed a fast during the entire month of Ramadan, each night holding an iftar at his home with a different Muslim family from the community as his guest. This was his way of showing solidarity with the 10-15,000 Muslims who live in San Jose. I’m just guessing about this, but I imagine having at least some experience with fasting in Mormon practice may have given him the confidence to try an actual month’s fast.

More recently, I have a Mormon friend who for an inter-faith project did an entire month’s fast. Although she did this using Muslim principles, for various reasons she did it during the month of February, which was not actually Ramadan that year, but which would be an easier month to try given the shortness of days during that month and the shortness of the month itself.

At first she found it very difficult, but her Muslim friend and confidante in the project assured her it would get easier–and it did. One of the things she learned from the experience was the importance of community in undertaking such a fast. She felt all alone doing this fast by herself, and she thought how wonderful it would be if her loved ones were doing it together with her. At that moment she felt a twinge of envy for Muslims who get to do this as a worldwide community, all partaking of and sharing in the same experience at the same time.

When I see newspaper articles about, say, a young man enduring football practices in the heat of August while maintaining his fast, I marvel in awe that such a thing is even possible. The discipline of fasting brings with it great spiritual power. I honor my Muslim friends for the joy they are experiencing in the midst of this year’s fast.

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