News Story

How Fasting, Faith and Food Become Key Ingredients to Friendship

Muslims and Latter-day Saints across Canada participate in interfaith events during Ramadan

During Ramadan throughout April 2022, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined Muslims across Canada for interfaith initiatives. Each event focused on food — fitting for the Islamic holy month of fasting — as members of the two faith communities shared meals in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario and partnered for a food drive in British Columbia.

Fasting and helping those in need are among the shared practices and values of Muslims and Latter-day Saints. For the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims worldwide abstain from food and drink from sun-up to sundown, breaking their fast each evening with a special meal called “iftar,” often shared with family and friends. Latter-day Saints fast for 24 hours once a month (usually on the first Sunday), share their testimonies of Jesus Christ in a special Church meeting and give a donation called a “fast offering” to provide for those in need.

“For Muslims and Latter-day Saints, fasting … promotes spiritual growth and temporal well-being and brings faithful members closer to God,” explains the “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values, and Lifestylespamphlet the Church published earlier this year in consultation with several Sunni and Shia communities.

“During the past 50 years,” the pamphlet states, “Muslims and Latter-day Saints have been engaged in interfaith initiatives throughout the world to provide relief for the poor, strengthen families and build supportive communities.”

The Ramadan and Easter food drive in British Columbia, which lasted the entire month, exemplifies the ongoing interfaith relationships between Muslims and Latter-day Saints. The interfaith iftars held at various locations across Canada — a Latter-day Saint chapel in Montreal, an Islamic centre in Lethbridge and a federal government building in Ottawa — suggest that each is a unique experience.

Montreal, Quebec — Attending Annual Iftar

Once a year, the fasting schedules for Muslims during Ramadan and for Latter-day Saints during their monthly 24-hour fast coincide, usually for only a single day. This year, for Latter-day Saints in the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake, that was Sunday, April 10, 2022. Members of both faith communities jointly broke their fasts at an iftar that evening — and the first one since the pandemic — held at the Rue de l’Orphelinat chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Muslim community members, many from the Intercultural Dialogue Institute Montreal (IDI), and Montreal Latter-day Saints introduced themselves to each other as they arrived, and then sat together at round tables to share food, stories, laughter, religious experiences and beliefs.

“I feel myself being enriched when meeting more people from different cultures,” said Meral Kaçmaz of the IDI in her opening remarks. Muslims and Latter-day Saints offered prayers and short speeches about fasting before the meal commenced.

Lentil soups, rice, brightly coloured salads, two kinds of Turkish börek (a small savory pie often filled with cheese and herbs, spinach or potatoes) and şekerpare for desert (an almond-based Turkish pastry) were just some of the homemade foods that members of the Muslim community prepared and generously shared. As part of the event, rooms within the church building were reserved for Muslims in attendance to pray at the appropriate time.

“I think that sitting around the same table while sharing the food and exchanging insights about fasting, religion, life and God is very meaningful,” said Recai Yilmaz, an IDI member who was attending his third interfaith iftar event.

Yilmaz, who self-identifies as religious, said, “It is a joy to me to explore and learn about different experiences of belief.” The first interfaith iftar he attended was the first time he met people from another religion who also practise fasting. He said, “I feel that the similarities help me relate and the differences enrich my understanding of God and life.”

At the evening’s close, members of the Muslim community presented each Latter-day Saint in attendance with a framed, handmade ebru — a Turkish traditional art form that uses pigment on water to form a unique pattern, then is transferred onto special paper — created by Sema Tekce, a Muslim community member.

Lethbridge, Alberta — Understanding Religious Traditions

Before an iftar, Muslims traditionally break their fast by eating a date and drinking some water, a tradition that Latter-day Saints shared as they attended the Lethbridge Islamic Centre on April 9, 2022.

The Muslim community welcomed 12 Latter-day Saints to the iftar that evening, including several local Church leaders. Among those were Presidents Michael Steed, Aaron Low and Doug Atwood (stake presidents of the Lethbridge Alberta, Lethbridge Alberta East and Lethbridge Alberta North stakes, respectively); Karen Iwaasa of the Lethbridge Alberta North Stake Relief Society (the Church’s women’s organization); John Seaborn and Becky Heyland, JustServe specialists; Daren Heyland and Cheryl Seaborn, Church communication directors; and Karen Wetterstrand, counsellor in the Lethbridge Alberta East Stake Relief Society presidency.

Muslim and Latter-day Saint women (including children under 10) and men were invited to separate rooms to share the iftar. Samosas, spicy soups, yalanji (stuffed grape leaves), rice dishes and pizza were among the foods served, representing some of the many cultures and backgrounds of the Muslims who attended and prepared the food.

Wetterstrand noted that the Muslim women she met “were from diverse places around the globe: Malaysia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Libya, just to name a few.”

Latter-day Saint women shared with the Muslim women how they pray, worship God and remember Jesus by partaking of the sacrament. Women of both faiths connected over their children and families. They shared information about their countries of origin and places they had lived before coming to Lethbridge.

During the dinner on the men’s side, Presidents Steed and Low sat across from Imam Zubair Sidyot, with whom they exchanged ideas about organizational practices and beliefs of their respective religions.

“It was wonderful to feel unified in our shared faith in God as we visited our Muslim friends,” said President Low. “I was touched by their sincerity in fasting and prayer as well as their genuine desire to live good and honourable lives.”

“>It was a marvellous evening,” said Wetterstrand, “full of warmth and friendship and sharing. We weren’t Somali or Syrian or Pakistani when we were there; we were just women laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company. It’s remarkable how barriers to friendship and understanding just fall away as we get to know one another and truly see each other. It was a beautiful thing.”

Ottawa, Ontario — Joining with Parliamentarians

Those attending a multi-faith iftar in Ottawa on April 26, 2022, first had to pass through security. Held across from Parliament Hill at the federal government’s Sir John A. Macdonald Building, the multi-faith iftar is an annual event co-sponsored by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Ottawa and the Parliamentary Friends Association, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada. This was the first such iftar for Ottawa Ontario Stake President Terry Nemeth.

The dress code was business or business casual as politicians across parties and faith leaders from various religions met together for the multi-faith event.

“All were united in expressing love for all God’s children and a desire to bring relief and aid to millions who desperately need it,” said President Nemeth.

Twenty-six members of Parliament, several Ontario members of parliament and Ottawa mayor Jim Watson attended; the latter shared a few remarks. Religious leaders included those of Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faiths.

“I [better] understand the importance of fasting and prayer for [other] faiths and the impact it can have in the world,” said President Nemeth. “Our Muslim friends, with daily fasting from sun-up to sundown during Ramadan, receive spiritual blessings and understanding from this practice.”

Along with teaching more about fasting, the event provided opportunities to meet and reconnect with other leaders in the community. President Nemeth spoke with Farhan Iqbal, Imam for Ottawa East, with whom the Church has an established interfaith relationship. President Nemeth also reconnected with Soumaila Coulibaly, president of the African Diaspora Association of Canada, and met Faheem Affan, director of the Parliamentary Friends Association, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada, for the first time.

Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver, British Columbia — Uniting in Good Works

When Kristine Ashton, communication director of the Vancouver British Columbia Stake, arrived at church on Easter Sunday, she was heartened to see collection boxes for the interfaith food drive filled to overflowing. Instant chicken soup, pasta, canned tomatoes, olive oil, organic lentil soup, wild mushroom rice, chickpeas and chocolate milk were some of the canned, boxed, bottled and bagged items poking out of the bins that day.

The interfaith food drive’s organizer, Feezah Jaffer, lead for Ismaili CIVIC, reached out to the Surrey British Columbia and Vancouver British Columbia stakes as part of a global Ismaili CIVIC effort of Shia Ismaili Muslims. The collaboration was a way to emphasize the similarities of Ramadan and Easter, as well as the common values of giving service and supporting those in need from any community.

The Ismaili Muslim Community, the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre (Shia Muslim Community of British Columbia), and the Surrey British Columbia and Vancouver British Columbia stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partnered for the interfaith food drive from April 2 to May 2, 2022, a time that included both Ramadan and Easter.

“[Ramadan] is an important time to reflect on our duty to support those who need it most in society,” said Farouq Manji, Community Relations, Ismaili Council for British Columbia.As such, … the Ismaili Muslim community, through its initiative Ismaili CIVIC, has joined other faith communities to give back through a food drive.”

“We are grateful we can join with our interfaith friends to help others in need,” said Bruno Venditti, Vancouver British Columbia Stake JustServe specialist.

Collection boxes were placed in nine Church buildings throughout the Metro Vancouver area, where Latter-day Saints donated food. Some even brought collection boxes to their workplaces.

“All of the food collected in this interfaith food drive is going directly to several food banks in the area: SHARE Food Bank [Port Moody], Surrey Food Bank, Richmond Food Bank and Muslim Food Bank [Burnaby],” said Ashton. “For the Muslim Food Bank, only vegan and halal donations were given to support those with special dietary needs.”

Manji said the interfaith food drive is “a reflection of our shared values of compassion, respect for human dignity and solidarity, ultimately which strengthens our desire and willingness to help others.”

Even near the end of the drive, food continued pouring in. On April 30, 2022, single adults at the Surrey British Columbia Stake Centre collected 486 pounds of food.

“So much good is accomplished when we come together as friends and focus on what unites us rather than on any cultural or doctrinal differences that might divide us,” said Venditti. “We hope our first interfaith food drive will now become an annual tradition as we build bridges of friendship and humanitarian service together.”

Contributed by Heather Thomson

Read the story in French.

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