ISRAEL / PALESTINE
Dialogue helps to improve understanding
Reported by Yehuda Stolov of the interfaith encounter movement in Israel
All religions have some fasting as part of their ritual. Here the Palestinians and Israelis explain why they fast. Please share with us your fasting experiences such as why the fast, how you fast and what is its significance.
The "Study and Dialogue" group of the Interfaith Encounter Association met on Monday, September 10th 2007, for an encounter around the theme of "Fasts" in Judaism and Islam.
Zainab Abu Ta'a presented the fasting in Islam. The central fast is the Ramadan fast, the fourth pillar of Islam. This fast is mandatory for adults (from around the age of 13) and one of the ways to come closer to God.
There are also permissible fasts: a vow (in return for a gift from God), a fast for atonement (for a sin, for example: in order to assume forgiveness for false oath one needs to fast for three days), the 13th till 15 th days of every month, six days in the month of Shawal (the month that follows Ramdan), the Day of Ashura (the tenth day of the first month in the Muslim year – parallel to the Jewish Day of Atonement, and in order to distinguish the Muslims add another day of fast, before and/or after it).
There are also days when it is forbidden to fast: the two main Feasts – Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, it is preferred not to fast on Friday and if one fasts on it they add also the adjacent days – Thursday and Saturday.
Those exempt from fasting are:
-A non-Muslim even if converted to Islam – does not need to return the days of Ramadan that he didn't fast before
-One who is temporarily ill who needs to return the missed fasting days after he is healed
-Anyone who does not have full mind: insane, retarded, in dementia etc.
-Chronically sick – if three doctors, who are sensitive also to religion, determined that he could not fast. He however needs to give charity to the poor in the same value of his meals
-A pregnant or nursing (for two years) woman – needs to return the missed fasting days, preferably before the next Ramadan
-A woman in her menstrual cycle or after giving birth (need to return the days)
-A person traveling more than 81 Km. (needs to return the days)
The conditions of fast are that one must think about the internal intention to fast. The fast must be observed from dawn till sun-set. Usually breakfast is taken before the fast preferably by eating cultured milk and dates. At breaking of the fast where possible one must start by eating dates and water. In this moment – every wish is fulfilled.
A Fast is cancelled if one eats and drinks on purpose. However if done by mistake and he returns to fasting then he does not have to return the day with an additional fast. When one vomits on purpose and swallows the vomit, the fast is deemed to be broken. When one engages in sexual relations during the day the fast is no longer valid. A fast is cancelled if there is infusion or blood transfusion.
Many of the details are similar to Judaism and during the study many comments about the similarities and differences were made.
Dov Maimon presented the fasting in Judaism. One day fast is commanded by the Torah i.e. the Day of Atonement, when we lower the body in order to uplift the soul and become more like angels. Four additional mandatory fasts – related to sad historical events (a kind of fast that does not exist in Islam). In Judaism fasting has an aspect of penance for sins, therefore there is also private voluntary fasting for penance.
In a private fast, one has to intend and accept upon oneself the fast in the afternoon prayer, which is immediately prior to the fast. Among other things the person intending to fast is asking God to consider the decrease in his body fat as if he sacrificed it to God. Sacrificing is related to coming closer to God, safe root in the Hebrew language, and so is fasting.
The perception that in order to come closer to God it is needed to reduce the body was not present in the Bible and the Talmud. It developed later with the Chassidei Ashkenaz movement (literally "the Pious of Germany"), Huvot Halvavot and others. In these streams many fasts were added.
In the conversation that developed later participants discussed whether the fast indeed makes the person better. It was clear that this is not necessarily so and a comment was quoted from religious authorities in Egypt against religious people who treat their parents badly or getting into arguments with people. An opinion was expressed that one of the challenges that religion educates to, is that coming closer to God will not disconnect from people but make the connection to them even stronger.
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Alliance for Peace Builders (AfP)
The Alliance for Peacebuilding held a Collaboration Connections session in July to explore the dynamics of the conflict environment in the Horn of Africa region – in particular, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Complex conditions and issues continue to drive the region into conflicts that sometimes become violent, and the threat of large-scale violence is always present. Several organizations active in the region participated in the session and agreed that the creation of a special forum of NGOs engaged in peace building in the Horn of Africa would be valuable. The forum will share information and perspectives while developing collaborative and multifaceted strategies to address the drivers of conflict. The East Africa Regional network developed by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) provides a direct connection with local NGOs, and AfP is building the forum with participation from the international community to link with the local NGOs in the region.
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