To our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the World:
As-salaamu ‘alaykum! Peace be upon you!
On behalf of the Special Commission for Dialogue with Islam of the Order of Friars Minor, it gives me great pleasure once again to extend our greetings to you at the beginning of Ramadan. This is a holy time as you commemorate and celebrate God’s revelation of the Qur’an as a guide to humanity (al-Baqara 2.185). It is a time of great contrasts: the rigorous fasting of the daytime and the generous feast (Iftar) of the evening, when carefully prepared dishes and desserts contrast with the simple sweetness of dates and the purity of water with which you break the fast; when thousands gather together for prayer in mosques, and each individual prays in the quiet of their hearts “that you may be more conscious (taqwā)” of God (al-Baqara 2.183). It is a special time spent with one’s family and friends, and a time when strangers are welcomed to the table; and it is particularly during this quintessential Islamic month of fasting that Muslims welcome people of all faiths to share iftar at the end of the day.
This year, in the months preceding Ramadan, Muslims have shown extraordinary hospitality and generosity to His Holiness, Pope Francis, during his visits to the United Arab Emirates in February, and to the Kingdom of Morocco in March, as in his previous visits to the Holy Land, Turkey, the Central African Republic and Egypt among other countries. In these visits, Pope Francis has often spoken of his desire to follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi who, bearing a “message of peace and fraternity” traveled to Egypt in 1219 where he was warmly received by the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. As was the case for St. Francis and the Sultan, these visits have provided Pope Francis and Muslim leaders with opportunities to likewise demonstrate the fraternity that God desires for Christians and Muslims as “descendants of the same father, Abraham.” (General audience, April 3, 2019)
Indeed, as His Majesty Muhammad VI, King of Morocco, reminded us during the Pope’s recent visit, the fraternity shared by Christians and Muslims dates back to the early Islamic era. Several years before the Hijra, when Muslims were experiencing persecution in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sent them to seek refuge with the Negus, the Christian king of Abyssinia who gave them his protection.
Tragically, in today’s world, both Muslims and Christians are still forced to flee from their homes due to persecution, war, and injustice. Even those who have fled the arenas of war are not entirely safe as seen so tragically in the recent events in Christchurch, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. In his recent visits to the Emirates and Morocco, Pope Francis has continued to speak on behalf of migrants and the world’s vulnerable. In Morocco he exhorted the Christian community to: “continue to be neighbors to those who are often left behind, the little ones and the poor, prisoners and migrants,” citing works of charity as “a path of dialogue and cooperation with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and with all men and women of good will” (Rabat, March 31, 2019). The concern for the poor, the needy and the migrant are, of course, foundational to Islam, as expressed so emphatically in the Qur’an:
It is not righteous that you turn your faces to the East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God, the Last Day, the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for the orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves…(al-Baqara 2.177)
We see the values that Muslims and Christians share, as well as their common concerns, in the remarkable document signed by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb and Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi in February. In this historic text titled A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, the faithful – both Muslims and Christians – are addressed as “believers,” and are exhorted equally to protect the creation and support all people, especially the poor, the destitute, the marginalized, and those most in need, including orphans, widows, refugees, exiles, and the victims of wars and torture, without distinction. While acknowledging the issues and challenges Muslims and Christians together face in the world – political, economic, technological and environmental – this document, the result of Muslim-Christian fraternity, can help to significantly advance dialogue “among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will.”
One of the most enduring images I have of Ramadan is the iftar, the much-anticipated meal at the end of a day of fasting. I fondly recall invitations to break the fast – not only from friends – but from complete strangers, policeman on duty and shopkeepers in Cairo among them. Around the world, Franciscan friars, sisters and lay people of all faiths are fed generously at the table in mosques and Muslim households. The iftar table thus becomes a symbol of the gathering of “believers.”
The city of Jerusalem also serves as a place where believers gather, the children of Abraham – Muslims, Christians and Jews – each with equal devotion and fervency. To this end, while in Morocco, Pope Francis signed an appeal with His Majesty Muhammad VI to protect and promote Jerusalem (al-Quds) as:
the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue cam be cultivated. (Rabat, March 30, 2019)
The encounters between different representatives of Muslim communities and countries with Pope Francis exemplify the deeply-felt fraternity that Muslims and Christians can experience in spite of the differences that have defined us for too long. During this Ramadan, we pray for the safety and security of your communities, and that this time may offer a most blessed encounter with God (swt) and a peaceful encounter with all who may benefit from your faith and fraternity. As the Holy Qur’an reminds us:
Everyone has a direction to which he turns. So vie with one another in good deeds. Wherever you are, God will bring you together. Truly God is Powerful over all things. (al-Baqara 2.148)
We wish you a most blessed Ramadan.Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem!
Br. Michael D. Calabria, OFM,
Special Assistant for Dialog with Islam
Members of the Commission for Dialog with Islam:
Br. Manuel Corullón, OFM
Br. Ferdinand Mercado, OFM
Br. Jamil Albert, OFM