Once again this year I am honoured to participate in The London Muslim Mosque’s Virtual Iftar during this holy season of Ramadan. Like last year, the celebration has been interrupted by COVID-19. As is often the case, the Muslim community in London will not be deterred. On April 30, Meals will be delivered, remarks will be offered, and a Feast will be held. What follows is an article I wrote for the Forest City Ramadan Magazine
Ramadan Mubarak to all of my friends. It is a pleasure to bring greetings to you this year at the time of your holy feast. I trust and pray that in the middle of these very unusual and unpredictable times, you have all managed to rely on the hope given to us in God Almighty. I pray you are all well and flourishing as much as can be expected in these times.
It strikes me that in these past months we have, each of us, become increasingly more aware of the vulnerability and the fragility of human life. The pandemic that has been wreaking havoc in our world since January 2020, has been apocalyptic in many ways. This past 12 months has been a time of unveiling. Things which were previously hidden, are becoming exposed. Willful ignorance is becoming increasingly more difficult. Without question, we know now that there is a disparity between peoples. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour have suffered disproportionately during this pandemic, just as they had suffered disproportionately before it. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to pull back the curtain on long-term and systemic injustice. We can no longer deny the ravages of anti-Asian hate, Islamophobia, anti-black racism, and of course the injustice and systemic effects of colonialism and white supremacy on our indigenous brothers and sisters. If the old adage “seeing is believing” is true, then this should be good news indeed. We can no longer afford to look away.
As painful as these revelations have beenI do honestly believe they are the Good News. I have great hope that God is unfolding incredible things in the midst of these very tumultuous times. The numbers of people we have seen come together, both virtually, and in person over this past year — to demonstrate, to speak out, and to speak for those whose voices are not being heard, to stand in solidarity — has been incredible. As always, it is no surprise to me that London’s Muslim community has been at the forefront of these demonstrations — standing up for justice for all people in our city. I offer my gratitude for the example that Muslims in our area have provided for me on my journey, and the witness that you are providing for my own faith community.
My friend John Marsh is a recently retired Priest, originally from London, now living in Vancouver. He was my mention when I was a seminary student in this city in the mid nineties. In many ways his witness has been life altering for me. In his new book It Ain’t Nothin but a Mess, he writes:
“If you are talking faith, you are talking work and if you are talking work, you are talking faith…Whenever associations are made between Islam and terrorism, whenever Muslims are held in suspicion – I am a Muslim; whenever Jews are attacked – I am a Jew; whenever Palestinians are harassed and killed – I am a Palestinian for I am follower of Jesus!”
These words leapt off the page when I read them because they speak of a way of being to which all who follow in the Way of Jesus should aspire. It is about the work. It is work that we do together. It is not, and has never been work that God intended we do alone.
In the Christian church we have just celebrated the Paschal Feast — Easter. For those who follow in the way of Jesus, this is the high point of the church’s year. It is for us the celebration of the triumph of light over darkness. It is the embracing of the possibilities that could be unleashed should we be bold enough to follow in the radical footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. Death will have no dominion over us. Darkness does not have to have the final say. If we are mad enough to believe in the possibilities unleashed in the resurrection of Jesus, we might just be mad enough to believe that we can dream and give birth to a day when brothers and sisters of all faiths, creeds, races, genders and orientations have a place. This can and will come to pass when we each of us comes to understand that when our Muslim sister or brother is held in suspicion, we are held in suspicion. When our Jewish brother or sister is attacked, we are attacked, when Canada’s First Nations suffer police brutality, we suffer police brutality. When LGBTQ+ are terrorized, we are terrorized. Can we be embrace the folly of faith that says we can be better? Can we accept the call to listen to the other and embrace a better future?
We cannot un-see what we have seen in this past year. As I said earlier, willful ignorance is not an option. Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
I am thankful that a new day is dawning where more people are prepared to understand that we cannot afford to be neutral when brothers or sisters are suffering.We have heard many people say throughout this past 12 months that we are all in this together. For those of us to walk in faith journey this is not new to us. We know that we are many members of the one body. In St Paul’s first letter to the people in Corinth we read in chapter 12, verses 12-27:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.
Paul was not alone in his understanding. In the Hadith on Brotherhood we read that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
In seeing the ways London’s Muslim community has consistently taken a stand for justice, I am hopeful that we will listen to the voice God who loves us all and submit to the will of God; that our submission will diminish our arrogance and increase our humility. I pray that our submission to God will lower the walls we have built and extend our tables. I expect that our submission to God will mean that we will reject scarcity, and embrace generosity and a hospitality that will make for lavish, well appointed tables — Feast tables where all of God’s people will know they do not walk alone!
We are blessed in the city to have such a strong, vibrant, and active Muslim community. Thank you for the many ways you witness to humility, justice, kindness, and hospitality. I am glad to join you in this time of celebration. It is a gift to walk beside you in times of challenge, and an honour to break bread with you in our days of feasting. I look forward to the day when we can share across the table with one another. Until then, I send my love and respect to you all.