Beliefwatch: Fast Friends

October 9, 2006

Author: Dilshad D. Ali and Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Source: Newsweek

The Roman Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA has decided to fast, but it's not waiting for Lent. After Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor's statement that Islam is "evil and inhuman," the group said that, to soothe tensions, thousands of its members are fasting for Ramadan. (For the 30 days of the Islamic holy month, observant Muslims abstain from food, drink and other earthly pleasures from sunup to sundown; the practice is one of the five required Pillars of Islam.) The people of Pax Christi are not alone. Especially since 9/11, non-Muslims have fasted to express political solidarity with Muslims, to increase awareness of global hunger, as a spiritual discipline, or to strengthen interfaith friendship.

More than 250 colleges are expected to participate this year in a Fast-a-thon, a one-day event for non-Muslim and Muslim students to draw attention to world hunger and raise money for local food banks. The event began after 9/11 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and has spread around the nation. Last year almost 1,800 students participated at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Some Ramadan fasts have a political message. Members of a local antiwar group in Ann Arbor, Mich., have organized a "solidarity fast"�”three-day shifts or for the entire 30 days�”to demonstrate opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the recent fighting in Lebanon. But dozens of American service members in Al Anbar province in Iraq are fasting, too, according to Sgt. Jeremy Pitcher, a spokesman for Coalition forces in Iraq. He says the fast is "a gesture of good will, a gesture of respect for the nation of Iraq, for the culture of Iraq."