22 May Message for the Month of Ramadan
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 us great pleasure to extend our greetings to you as you begin the observance of Ramadan, a month devoted to fasting, prayer and almsgiving, honoring God (swt) and the revelation of the Holy Qur’an.
Franciscan friars and Muslims have a history together than stretches back almost eight hundred years, beginning with our founder St. Francis of Assisi. We friars continue to take great inspiration from the meeting of St. Francis and the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in 1219, an encounter based on peace, and mutual admiration and respect. It is in this spirit that we greet you.
During this holy month of Ramadan, we encourage and support you as you undertake a rigorous fast. Fasting is a practice enjoined upon all the children of Abraham (upon him be peace!) by our respective holy books. As a religious order in the Catholic Church, we friars practice fasting during the season of the Lent, preceding our celebration of Easter, following the example of Jesus (upon him be peace!) who fasted for forty days (Luke 4.2). The fast that you undertake now is indeed a powerful sign of your commitment to faith and of your obedience to God (swt) so that, as it says in the Qur’an (al-Baqara 183): “you may become more righteous,” and that you may glorify God and be grateful (al-Baqara 185). Your fast expresses our common hunger and thirst for a closer relationship with God (swt), for faith and forgiveness, for justice and peace.
Pope Francis has often spoken about the connection between fasting, praying, and peace. In the first year of his pontificate, on September 7, 2013, he called upon all people of faith everywhere to fast and pray for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world. This day was chosen to coincide with the celebration of the birth of Mary, whom both Christians and Muslims honor as the mother of Jesus, whom we Catholic Christians call the “Queen of Peace.”
Today, Muslims and Christians around the world face discrimination, persecution, violence and war. As adherents of the two largest religions in the world, it is incumbent upon us, as brothers and sisters in Abraham (upon him be peace!) to join our hands and hearts to build a world of peace and justice.
With the breaking of your fast at the end of each day of Ramadan, you express our shared value of community, of gathering around a meal, a meal that is shared with all so that all might benefit from the bountiful goodness of God’s creation. ‘Iftar, shared with all, vividly demonstrates what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical on the Creation:
We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. (Laudato Si’, 52)
During this month, in addition to fasting, many of you will also fulfill the religious duty of zakah, charity that is given for the care of the poor. As with fasting, care for the poor in enjoined upon all the children of Abraham. It is a consistent concern of all God’s prophets (upon them be peace!). In the Psalms of David (upon he be peace!), we read:
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. (Psalm 82.3)
And in the New Testament, Jesus (upon him be peace!) says:
But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. (Luke 11.41)
Today, more than 740 million people in the world live in extreme poverty, the majority of which live in Africa and Asia in countries shared by Muslims and Christians. Poverty is not a sectarian problem; it is a human problem for which we share responsibility to all regardless of religion, race, ethnicity and country of origin.
During Ramadan you devote yourselves to prayer with particular attention and frequency, beyond that of the five daily prayers. As men of daily prayer, we Franciscans greatly admire the great devotion with which our Muslim brothers and sisters approach prayer. Quoting the great Christian theologian, St. Augustine, Pope Francis recently reminded us (Ash Wednesday Homily, 2017), that fasting and almsgiving are “the two wings of prayer,” because they are signs of humility and charity.
Above all, however, the month of Ramadan is the time when you celebrate the revelation of the Holy Qur’an. As “people of the Book,” we also recognize that God (swt) communicates with humanity in His Word revealed to the prophets (upon them be peace!). For over fourteen hundred years, the Holy Qur’an has served as the foundation of Muslim life across many cultures and countries, engendering great devotion, scholarship and sublime works of art and architecture. May it continue to inspire great and holy works and deeds.
Together with Franciscan friars around the world, we wish you a most blessed Ramadan. Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem!
May 22, 2017
Michael D. Calabria, OFM
Manuel Corullón, OFM
Ferdinand Mercado, OFM
Jamil Albert, OFM
OFM Special Commission for Dialogue with Islam