Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Joint Fast

This is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book, Life at the End of Us Versus Them. To reserve a copy, please send an email to

To anyone who would say that Islam diminishes women, Shahina Siddiqi, the director of Islamic Social Services (ISS), is a living counterargument. One of her many responsibilities is to keep abreast of what is being said about Islam and Muslims in media across the continent. Whenever Islam is in the news, she is called upon by media as a spokeswoman, which is pretty much all the time now.

I first got to know Shahina in 2001, during the aftermath of 9/11 and the indiscriminate bombing of Afghan villages. Christians and Muslims in Winnipeg were grieving and angry about having our faiths invoked by perpetrators of terror, and so a delegation of Christians and Muslims (headed by Shahina) hatched a plan for a joint Muslim/Christian fast, beginning with Ramadan and continuing through into Advent.i

We celebrated the end of our joint fast together at Eid, the feast marking the end of the Ramadan fast, on the campus of a Christian college. We prayed together for peace and released a joint statement “on war and violence that are not holy.”. . .

Recently, I bumped into Shahina at an open house luncheon at ISS, and she was curious about my work, whereabouts, and faith. “Are you still involved in the church?” she asked. I was caught off guard for a half second. Was Shahina fishing for an opening to proselytize? When I told her that we were quite involved in a small church in our new area, a big smile spread across her face. “Oh, I am so glad!”

Shahina’s profound “yes” to her religion was not a “no” to mine, for her religion has led her to open outwards, beyond either/or dualisms into the expansiveness of a both/and universe.

Monotheism, says James Alison, is a wonderful discovery, but a terrible idea. The idea of the One True God, revealed in the one true message, guaranteed by the one true messenger, easily begets an understanding of faithfulness to this message that seeks to “recreate the uniqueness of God by developing a strong sense of what is other than us—gentiles in the case of Jews, the unbaptised ‘world’ in the case of Christians, and infidels who aren’t members of the Ummah in the case of Muslims.”i Alison goes on to show that in this approach, “we don’t believe in God, but only in conflict.” For Alison, the real gem of monotheism is the exact opposite. Interpreting Isaiah’s account of divine encounter, he says, “the fundamental experience of God is one of being at peace and unafraid since God is so much stronger than everything else.”ii. . .

iIslam’s holy calendar follows a lunar cycle, so there are slightly fewer than 365 days in each liturgical year. I was lucky to participate in the sun-up to sun-down fast of Ramadan during winter in Winnipeg, where the days were about as short as they can be anywhere in the Muslim world.  
iJames Alison, Undergoing God, 19–20.
iiIbid., 26.

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