Michael J. Daly Hunger, reflection: good for the soul

June 11, 2018 GMT

The imam was very thirsty.

I knew this not only because as he began his remarks the other night, he said, “My throat is dry, but I can’t drink water,” but also because as he spoke, he swallowed a couple of times and it was clearly uncomfortable.

But there would be no water at this moment for Imam Khizer Ali on this night, in the middle of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month-long period of prayer, fasting and introspection.

No water until sunset, which on this night would occur at 8:21 p.m. — 40 minutes away at this point — and the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily sunrise to sunset fast, would begin.

Khizer Ali, American-born, is a young man, 22, a student at the Islamic University of Madinah, in Saudi Arabia and he was the guest speaker at the 2018 Interfaith iftar held in the basement of the mosque at 877 Park Avenue, the former First Congregational Church.

Some 70 people sat at round folding tables in the basement. It was an eclectic mix that included Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara, young Muslim women in colorful hijabs, Dr. Shakour Abuzneid — one of my table mates — a professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Bridgeport — Cass Shaw, president and CEO of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport; the Rev. Sara Smith — another table mate — senior minister with the First Congregational Church and a host of other folks.

Ali wore a crisp white tunic, which he noted was of cultural, rather than religious, significance. It was sort of a “clothes don’t make the man” reference, the point being that it’s not material trappings that make a good person. (He did take the opportunity, though, to compliment Tetreau on his tie.)

“What I’m wearing is not my religion, he said. “Judge me by my actions.”

And that was the gist of his talk, revolving around a theme that would be familiar to a person of just about any faith: We are created equal and the only factor that makes one person better than another is their actions in devotion and kindness.

And he was forceful in his repudiation of the Muslims who, under the false cover of religion, commit violence.

“The Islam is telling us not to kill an ant. How can a Muslim say, ’God is ordering me to kill someone, God would never ask us to kill a person. No religion that comes from God would do such a thing. God’s religion tells us to love one another,” he said.

The unavoidable fact, he said, is that “there are bad Christians, there are bad Jews and there are bad Muslims,” he said.

The night’s events were organized by the Tent of Abraham community, a group that includes leaders of the Greater Bridgeport Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations.

Set on tables in the basement of the mosque were plates of dates, a traditional food for breaking the fast.

Ramadan this year began on May 16, triggered by the appearance of the crescent moon, the symbol of Islam.

So as we approach June 21, the longest day of the year, the fasting gets a little longer and a little longer with each passing day.

I’ll think of it as Lent in the Christian tradition, also a time of self-denial and reflection.

Some 1,000 families are members of the Greater Bridgeport Islamic community, by the estimate of Dr. Ahmed Ebrahim, president of Bridgeport’s Islamic Community Center and an associate professor of accounting in the Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University.

The center last year bought the church. At the time, the Rev. Smith described that formidable steeple as “a beacon of hope,” not only to her congregation but also for the 800 to 1,000 people who came to the church for a meal, perhaps, for other services and for, well, some hope.

Ebrahim said at the time that regardless of what symbol perched atop the steeple, it would continue to serve as a beacon of hope.

At 8:21 p.m., we dove into the dates. The imam inhaled a couple of small bottles of water. And then came the call to prayer, the mellifluous Arabic chanting of an unseen voice.

Above, where pews and an altar once were, men alternately stood, knelt and prostrated themselves as Imam Ali led them through the Islamic prayer.

Then it was back downstairs for some serious chow, platters of rice with pecans, meatballs, pea soup, bread and deliciously spicy chicken.

Would that the good will in the room could spill out into the world.

Different notions of the almighty are fine as long as that notion includes peace on earth and goodwill to all.

Michael J. Daly is editor of the editorial page of the Connecticut Post. Email: mdaly@ctpost.com.