Holy days converging in April spark interfaith celebrations
It’s a convergence that happens only rarely. Coinciding with Judaism’s Passover, Christianity’s Easter and Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, Buddhists, Baha’is, Sikhs, Jains and Hindus also are celebrating their holy days in April.
The springtime collision of religious holidays is inspiring a range of interfaith events. In Chicago, there’s the Interfaith Trolley Tour coming up on April 24, in which a trolley will make stops at different faiths’ houses of worship. In cities across the country, Muslims are inviting people to interfaith iftars so they can break their daily Ramadan fasts in community with their non-Muslim neighbors.
In addition to Passover, Easter and Ramadan, holy days occurring in April this year include the Sikhs’ and Hindus’ Vaisakhi, the Jains’ Mahavir Jayanti, the Baha’i festival of Ridvan, and the Theravada Buddhist New Year.
Across faiths, the celebration of the overlapping holy days and religious festivals is seen as a chance to share meals and rituals. For some, it’s also a chance to learn how to cooperate among faith traditions on crucial issues, including how to help curb climate change, fight religious intolerance, and assist people fleeing Afghanistan, Ukraine and other nations during the global refugee crisis.
“The rare convergence of such a wide array of holy days is an opportunity for all of us to share what we hold sacred with our neighbors from other traditions as a way of building understanding and bridging divides,” said Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith America, previously known as Interfaith Youth Core. “This is Interfaith America in microcosm.”
On Chicago’s south side, the upcoming trolley tour is intended to teach participants about this year’s April holidays, which are converging for the first time in the same month since 1991, said Kim Schultz, coordinator of creative initiatives at the Chicago Theological Seminary’s InterReligious Institute.
The trolley will stop at several sacred spaces, including a Baptist church, a mosque and a synagogue, and will end with an iftar at sunset catered by recently resettled Afghan refugees.
“We’re asking people to take advantage of this confluence, the convergence … more than half of the world is celebrating or commemorating the critical moment in our faith traditions,” said Hind Makki director of recruitment and communications at American Islamic College.
The event is sponsored by the American Islamic College, the Chicago Theological Seminary, the Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at the Lutheran School of Theology, the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council and the Parliament of the World’s Religions. After more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions that upended many holidays, followers are eager to meet in person again.
Organizers of the Chicago event said they had arranged for a trolley that would carry 25 people, but there was so much interest across faiths that they had to arrange for a bigger trolley for 40 people instead. And then, when more kept joining, a second trolley.
“This is a great time,” Makki said. “So, why not take the opportunity to learn about each other’s traditions, to learn about each other through those traditions.”
As part of the month’s celebrations, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA opened its mosques to host dozens of interfaith iftars in cities across the nation centered on the theme of ‘justice through compassion.’
“During our gatherings across 35 cities we emphasized that the world that we see now stands on the brink of a world war,” said Amjad Mahmood Khan, national director of public affairs for Ahmadiyya. “And only the collective prayers and actions of the faithful can really save humanity from self-destruction.”
Faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faiths gathered recently for a virtual panel celebrating the convergence of their sacred observances. Among the issues discussed were shared concerns over the rise of white Christian Nationalism and legislation in Arizona and Florida that they criticized for marginalizing LGBTQ young people.
“We see that convergence as highly symbolic, maybe even divinely ordained as our people need to reaffirm our shared values of love, freedom and justice in order to disrupt white Christian Nationalists’ attempts to decide what ideas, identities and practices are valued and respected,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, founder and chief executive of the Washington-based multifaith group Faith in Public Life.
“This sacred season presents the opportunity for solidarity, for prophetic witness as we lament the rise of intolerance and discriminatory laws that threaten our nation’s quest to be a multiracial and multireligious democracy,” she said.
It will also be an important moment for members of different faiths to find common ground in the runup to the U.S. midterm elections, said Nina Fernando, executive director of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, a multifaith national coalition committed to countering and preventing anti-Muslim discrimination.
“With the time that we’re living where essentially we’re polarized and divided among racial and religious and political lines, we can take this opportunity to talk about how to live well together amidst our diversity and talk about these holidays overlapping,” Fernando said.
The convergence of the holidays also offers a chance to dispel misconceptions about faith traditions and appreciate shared values, said the Rev. Stephen Avino, executive director of the Parliament for World Religions.
“The holidays are the enactment of the core values, and we can actually see before our eyes the beauty of that tradition through the holidays and through ritual,” Avino said. “You can compare that to your own traditions, and you can see the similarities and differences and within that is the beauty of that. And you start to see that faith as being worthy of reverence, while still maintaining your own faith.”
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