When Reverend Wess Magruder, Senior Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Rowlett, told his friend and neighbor Imam Yaseen Shaikh, Imam of the Islamic Association of Collin County, that he was going to observe the Muslim fast of Ramadan with his Muslim friends, Yaseen Shaikh replied in his British accent: “It’s intense.” Surely the experience has been intense, not only because the pastor is not used to a 30 day long fast, abstaining from food and drinks for 15 hours a day, but because thousands of readers have been following the pastor’s story through his daily blog and through a previous examiner article as well. Moreover, the experience turned into an interfaith exchange where Muslims received a fresh perspective of fasting and the pastor found new friends and new spiritual discipline.
KERA’s “Think” interviewed yesterday the two Texan “amicos,” the Muslim imam and the Christian pastor. Krys Boyd presented her two guests who talked about their Ramadan-fasting experiences albeit coming from two different faith traditions. Rev. Magruder said that he decided to fast in order to show solidarity with his Muslim friends, like Imam Yaseen, who are observing a month-long fast. Having been looking for ways to deepen his own spiritual life, he noticed the deep truth to Muslim fasting. But while he thought he would be fasting alone in his Christian environment, focusing on his spiritual development, he found out that in order to get the most of the experience he had to break his fast in community, with his Muslim friends. “Everyone treated me as if I were a member of the community,” he said. Thus, he started accepting invitations for the break-fast meals, “iftars,” from different communities throughout the DFW metroplex. Last night, he broke his fast at the Islamic Center of Irving’s civic iftar, and Friday, he is invited to an iftar at the Al-Hedayah Islamic Center in Fort Worth.
Magruder said he was surprised at the response of his fasting experience, which he blogs about. He gladly received the support from his Methodist and Christian friends, who, he said, probably laugh at him for being so much calmer during his fast. His congregation is very interested, he said, in opening discussions and asking questions about Islam. However, he did not anticipate the Muslim response which started after Imam Yaseen shared the pastor’s blog with his congregation. The blog further spread beyond the metroplex, all over the country, and crossed the oceans. Muslims from all over the world are commenting on the pastor’s blog with words of encouragement, support, and advice to manage his fast. Watch WFAA-TV exclusive.
So how does Rev. Magruder act like a Muslim during Ramadan? From his Christian experience with fasting, Magruder knows how to focus on the moment when he feels the hunger; it’s the moment when he becomes aware of God. But with the Muslim fast, he’s always hungry and always conscious of God. Furthermore, besides studying his Christian tradition, the pastor has been reading some verses in the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book. He has even participated in the Muslim prayer last weekend when he prayed next to his friend, Imam Yaseen. “And when my forehead touched the carpet on the ground, I found myself deeply awed. I was struck by my vulnerability. I was kneeling forward, head down, neck bared. There is no more vulnerable position than that.” Magruder wrote on his blog on August 1st. “What I experienced in that posture was ‘the fear of the Lord,’ which is a Jewish phrase that doesn’t mean ‘fear’ in the sense of the human emotion of horror or dread, but an overwhelming feeling of awe, the kind that takes your breath and speech away.”
Rev. Magruder told KERA’s Boyd that he was planning to integrate Muslim fasting in his spiritual life beyond Ramadan, and when asked whether he would advise his congregation to try the fast, he replied that many people might be willing to follow his example. He also discussed how fasting made him calmer and more serious and reflecting. And as a Christian, he said, he would continue building bridges and meditating on fasting.
Muslims, including Imam Yaseen, feel inspired by Magruder’s experience, which provides Muslims with a fresh perspective about fasting. Yaseen didn’t think that his friend would last that long. Describing the spirituality of fasting, he said: “Beyond the flesh and bone, we have a spiritual aspect that needs to be fed.” Thus, the fast is a detox for the body and the spirit. “Ramadan is a training ground to build a connection with God and continuity within community.”Magruder explained how Jesus fasted for forty days and ignored Satan’s temptation by saying “Man shall not live by bread alone but by the every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He said: “When we fast we are focusing on our true identity; we are not just physical beings.”
The Dallas tale of the Muslim imam and the Christian pastor is gaining national coverage, sending signs of hope for our national unity. An example of interfaith compassion and not just tolerance, this story is food for the soul. “America is full of truth seekers,” Imam Yaseen said about Americans who love to open their hearts and minds and ignore media stereotypes. Most importantly, this story is a Ramadan blessing for all the Muslims fasting this month, and for many people like Reverend Magruder.
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