A season to put spirituality first
Fasting is part of holidays for Jews, Muslims and Christians
- Cicero A. Estrella, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
A rare convergence of holy days has Jewish, Muslim and Christian
congregations celebrating in different ways almost simultaneously -- and all
with periods of fasting.
With the Jewish High Holy Days and the month-long Muslim celebration of
Ramadan beginning within days of each other this week, millions of people
around the world will forgo food and drink in a bid for spiritual growth. In
addition, Eastern Orthodox Christians will fast starting Nov. 15 to
celebrate Advent, the 40 days leading to Christmas.
"There's a deeply felt human instinct that uses fasting as a universal
language with God," said Rev. Tom Ryan, a Catholic priest from New York
whose recent book, "The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice,"
covered the topic. "Food and drink represent life and growth. One who
voluntarily gives up food and drink basically is communicating to the Divine
that he is more important than life itself."
"With 1 billion Muslims, 16 million Jews and (millions) of Orthodox
Christians, that's a lot of people fasting around the world," said Ryan, who
added that people of other faiths, including Hindus and Buddhists, also
fasted for spiritual cleansing.
The Jewish New Year and Ramadan are based on different lunar calendars and
rarely coincide. This year's unusual confluence prompted faith leaders from
the South Bay to plan an event called "Fasting and Feasting Together," which
is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at 170 S. Market St. in San Jose.
The interfaith event -- which will also celebrate the Catholic Feast of St.
Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4) and Protestant World Communion Sunday (Oct. 2) --
will bring Jews, Muslims and Christians together to break a fast with
prayers and a meal.
"The word has gone out to all channels," said Rev. Andrew Kille, an ordained
American Baptist minister who founded the Interfaith Space in the South Bay.
"We want all three faith groups to extend invitations as far as they can."
Hakam Ibrahim, 27, a property appraiser for the City and County of San
Francisco, began his fast Tuesday, a day ahead of today's official beginning
"A lot of people think Ramadan is only about not eating," said Ibrahim, 27,
as he prepared to attend midday prayers at the Islamic Society of San
Francisco Tuesday. "It's really about a month of reassessing your spiritual
Ramadan is also a time of charity. The fast is a reminder to help those who
can't afford to have three meals a day and others who are less fortunate in
Ibrahim said not having to prepare three meals a day freed him to read the
Quran, reflect on accomplishments and missed opportunities of the past year
and plan for the following year.
"I'm able to focus on my whole life," he said. "What am I doing? Am I
getting closer to God? Am I praying five times a day, reading scripture? Am
I doing a good job at work?"
Muslims who celebrate Ramadan fast during daylight hours and break the fast
with iftar, a ceremony that includes prayer and a meal after sundown.
For Safa Ibrahim, who is no relation to Hakam, Ramadan provides the chance
to reacquaint with family and friends.
"The rest of the year you're always so busy. It's rush, rush," said the
executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations. "You take a step back during Ramadan and
Mark Silverman, 59, said the 10-day Jewish New Year celebration -- which
started at dusk Monday with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and ends at
sunset Oct. 13 with Yom Kippur -- is similarly a time of reflection,
planning and reunion.
The San Francisco immigration lawyer usually spends Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement when Jews fast for the entire day, with his father in the East
Bay. They attend services at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, where Silverman
often catches up with friends from his childhood.
"It's a good opportunity for introspection on the personal aspects of my
life, my social commitments," Silverman said. "It's a time to reassess."
Traditions of the holiday period include 100 daily blasts from the shofar, a
ram's or other animal's horn; symbolic foods such as honey-dipped apples,
pomegranates and the head of a sheep or fish; and the Tashlich prayer, which
is recited near a body of water on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the
anniversary of the creation of the world.
E-mail Cicero A. Estrella at cestrella@...