April 13, 2021 (1442 AH)
To our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world:
As-salaamu ‘alaykum! Peace be with you!
On behalf of the Special Commission for Dialogue with Islam of the Order of Friars Minor, it gives us great pleasure once again to extend our greetings to you as you begin the holy month of Ramadan.
More than a year has passed has since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The personal losses and hardships we have all endured have been painful and profound, and may continue, but we trust in God (Allāh swt) who assures us: “the future will be better than the past” (al-Ḍuḥā 93.4), and: “truly, with hardship there is comfort” (al-Sharḥ 94.5).
Last year, for many of you, Ramadan was observed primarily in your homes, apart from relatives and friends. Although vaccinations are now increasingly available, public health measures and social distancing may continue to limit your communal suhur and iftar – and limit the opportunity for many of us in the Franciscan family to break the fast with you, as we have done so often in the past. It will be a happy day indeed when we can all freely and fully celebrate our sacred seasons again.
It is truly a sign of God, the Most Compassionate (al-Raḥmān), the Most Merciful (al-Raḥīm), the Most Wise (al-Ḥakīm), and the Most Munificent (al-Karīm), that the celebration of Ramadan this year again falls at a time when Christians are celebrating the Easter season, and when so many people of faith around the world – Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Baha’i – are also observing holy days. As you give thanks and praise to God for the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, all of humanity, it seems, will be praising and worshipping God, each in their own unique way.
Sadly, however, even in this time of pandemic when we need to turn to one another in care and compassion, some are increasingly turning against one another due to differences of religion, ethnicity, race, national identity and political ideology. Even people who share a common national identity are turning against their compatriots with hatred and violence. This is truly a sin against God’s plan for His creation. As God (Allāh swt) tell us in the Holy Qur’an: “We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. The most noble among you is the one who is most aware of God.” (al-Ḥujarāt 49.13).
It was in this spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood that, in October 2020, Pope Francis issued Fratelli Tutti, his encyclical on fraternity and social friendship. This text was inspired by his meeting with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi in 2019, and the Document on Human Fraternity that they issued together.
In his encyclical, Pope Francis again referenced St. Francis’ encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in 1219 as an example of universal fraternity that transcends differences of “origin, nationality, color or religion.” Referring to all good of people of faith as “believers,” he remarked:
We believers need to find occasions to speak with one another and to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor…We believers are challenged to return to our sources, in order to concentrate on what is essential: worship of God and love for our neighbor, lest some of our teachings, taken out of context, end up feeding forms of contempt, hatred, xenophobia or negation of others (281-2).
It was in this same spirit that Pope Francis recently traveled to the nation of Iraq to meet with political and religious leaders, encouraging all people “to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family,” and “to speak with one another from our deepest identity as fellow children of the one God and Creator” (Address on March 5, 2021).
On the plains of Ur, from which the Patriarch and Prophet Abraham (upon him be peace!) began his journey of faith, Pope Francis gathered with the representatives of the different religious communities – Sunni, Shi’i, Catholic, Orthodox and others – in recognition of the journey of faith we all share, although we travel by different paths. As Abraham left much behind to answer God’s call, so too are we called “to leave behind those ties and attachments that, by keeping us enclosed in our own groups, prevent us from welcoming God’s boundless love and from seeing others as our brothers and sisters. We need to move beyond ourselves, because we need one another” (Interreligious meeting, March 6, 2021).
Ramadan is a time when we in the Catholic-Franciscan family especially feel our bonds of faith with you, our Muslim brothers and sisters, united by our common practices of prayer, fasting and charity, expressed by a meal shared with others. We are reminded of a hadith reported by ‘Abdullah ibn Amr that is particularly meaningful in our day:
A man asked the Prophet, ‘Which Islam is best?’ The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘To feed the hungry and to greet with peace those you know and those you do not know.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī28)
During this month, this sacred season shared in different ways by so many faithful believers, let us be united by the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood as the sons and daughters of Abraham, and let us again resolve to be instruments of the Peace that is God – al-Salām. 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