June 8, 2016 was a pleasantly surprising day. I had the good fortune of reaching out to an old acquaintance and friend of mine, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister. He ended up inviting me to an Iftar dinner. The holy month of Ramadan is here for Muslims. Pacifica institute in collaboration with San Francisco Interfaith Council had organized an Iftar dinner at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.
As my struggle with faith continues, I seem to have drifted away from Islam. I see my life quite directionless at the moment in terms of my beliefs. I decided to attend the Iftar not just to catch up with my friend but also to reflect on Ramadan.
Ramadan is traditionally a month of prayer and fasting. As I’ve blogged in the past, Islam is not a monolith and Muslims are too diverse in their ways. In Pakistan, where I grew up, Islam was mostly about blindly following rituals. There was little, if any, element of spirituality. When I use the word spirituality, I mean the inner, psychological dimension of religion. To elaborate a bit more, people said their prayers because it was the done thing. People fasted because it was the norm. People did not pray or fast to reflect on their relationship with God and with humanity. They did not pray or fast to think about mortality and morality. There were no deep, philosophical discussions about what it means to be a good believer, a good child, a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend or a good citizen.
Reflecting on the Iftar dinner, I think the month of Ramadan should essentially start with an honest desire to find God. It’s fairly possible that we may not find God at the end of Ramadan. However, if we are sincere in our desire and disciplined in our efforts, we will at least find a part of our own-selves in the process. This is the essence of Ramadan for me. We are all seekers of truth and meaning. We must search for these, freely and responsibly. And there is no better way to search than sharing this personal journey with others. The path to truth and meaning is the path of self-discovery by sharing. This is the second dictum about Ramadan that was revealed to me, pun intended. Ramadan is not just about sharing food and water with our friends and family, neighbors and strangers. It is also about sharing our thoughts and ideas in order to help us in the process of achieving ever-greater awareness of the mind and heart and subsequent improvement of ourselves.
To quote my friend:
Powerful testimony tonight to the need for interfaith humility and cooperation: “My God and your God are one God, to whom let us both be self-submitted in peace.”
Even though I do not believe in the Abrahamic God in the orthodox way, I like to see God as a symbolic referent for our collective ideal, as my friend once described it. As an agnostic, my ideal for interfaith humility and cooperation is the same as my Unitarian Universalist friend’s ideal. It was a pleasure sharing the experience with him and benefitting from his wisdom. I hope to learn and grow as a universalist in the days to come.