Members of the three major faiths gathered together Wednesday, June 7, for an interfaith iftar, the name for the sunset meal in which Muslims end each day’s fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Various representatives from the Catholic, Jewish and Islamic faiths shared inspiring stories of how their common values helped close physical and emotional distance amongst themselves, and the need to continue taking action. They also stressed how important fasting was in terms of reaching a higher state of spiritual consciousness.
The interfaith dinner, held at the School of Social Work on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University, was organized by Muslims 4 Peace, a non-profit group that, among other things, advocates developing constructive relationships between different religious groups to achieve progress and prevent intolerance.
Donna C. Pressma, who is Jewish and serves as president and CEO of The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, said she recently witnessed how that distance was being closed during a recent trip to Israel.
There, she met an elderly man who has spent many years bringing together Palestinian and Israeli kids, something that’s normally shunned.
“He has created a remarkable level of understanding,” she said.
The lesson from that story, Pressma said, is that people need to get out of their comfort zones and form relationships, in order to make positive contributions to reduce division and hate.
“The greatest sin of all is doing nothing when so many awful things are happening,” she said. “You can do it where you live. It’s incumbent on each of us to reach out and bring together people who normally don’t talk to each other.”
Like Muslims, Pressma said the Jewish community sees the value of fasting as a way to cleanse sins and prevent future indiscretions. Jews traditionally fast between the major observances of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Pressma’s organization gave a Certificate of Appreciation to Mansvoor Rizvi, a member of Muslims 4 Peace.
Ali Chaudry of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge has started a campaign to stand up to bigotry, which he said is becoming very common at places like schools, playgrounds and other public locales.
“This is totally unacceptable. Each one of us can make a difference,” Chaudry said. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fear.”
He urged people to take the pledge for his campaign, entitled Stand Up for The Other. The pledge reads: “While interacting with members of my own faith, or ethnic, or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and speak up to challenge bigotry in any form.”
The Rev. Eugene Field of the Archdiocese of Newark said the differences between the major faiths are being exploited. It’s time that the commonalities between the faiths be given greater recognition.
“We share a common God, and in a certain way, a common faith,” Smith said. “We all have the capacity to do good.” Smith said fasting has positive dimensions.
“It reminds us we’re yearning for something greater,” he said. “It’s not just denying ourselves of something.”
The Rev. Bob Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action, said light symbolizes something good and positive, and being in the presence of God. To demonstrate that, he held up a small electric candle at the dinner.
“It’s a blessing we’re together,” he said.
One way to secure a peaceful future, he said, is to rid the world of nuclear weapons by negotiating a treaty.
The Rev. Dennis Berry, director of Shrine of St. Joseph in Stirling, also called on “helping to unite the different forces of good.”
As a society, Sam Freedman, who’s Jewish, said it needs to stand up to oppressors and help marginalized groups gain a voice. That includes groups like Black Lives Matter and the Palestinians.
“The best form of love is often confrontational and through demonstration.”
Christian-Muslim understanding is critical at the moment because of rising Islamophobia, “Mustafa Karim, Director of muslims4peace. “While I feel as a native New Jerseyan that people are generally open and welcoming, there is still so much misinformation about Muslims, and therefore, about our neighbors.”