View from the Pew
Call of the Moon
For millions of people on the planet, the sight of the crescent moon today will be taken very personally. It's the beginning of a lunar cycle that brings major religious holidays for Jews, Muslims and Hindus.
Observant people of those faiths will be intensely absorbed in doing their own familiar things in the midst of like-minded believers. Jews will be together for the long recitation of prayers for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Muslims will meet after nightfall to pray and break their Ramadan fast together. Hindus have nine days of Navaratri or Durga Puja ahead, celebrating the story of the goddess Durga's triumph over evil.
In one of those only-in-Hawaii moments, a church service planned for tomorrow will observe all three holidays by bringing a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew to pray together in a congregation that includes some Christians. It's not necessary, is it, to belabor the fact that in many places not like Hawaii, any combination of those faiths can be grounds for unholy madness and mayhem.
The 10:15 a.m. service at the state Capitol courtyard will be sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Hawaii. Just hearing that denomination's full name, the Unitarian Universalist church, pretty much tells it all about its inclusive and open-minded foundation.
It didn't start out to be a statement of interfaith tolerance at the center of government of the most diverse population on earth. It just started as the Unitarians seeking an alternative place for their Sunday service and seeking a permit for the Capitol space. They share their Nuuanu worship space with Congregation Sof Ma'arav, with an understanding that they'll vacate the premises when the Jewish congregation will observe the High Holy Days on a Sunday.
The Rev. Mike Young, Unitarian minister, is ecstatic at the confluence of religious calendars. The subject came up at a Sept. 4 interfaith program sponsored by All Believers Network, a group that brings people from different belief systems together to educate and understand each other.
"A serendipitous occasion like this deserves to be celebrated," Young said. "There's a wonderful conjunction here, not just the calendric fascinations -- all three holidays begin within hours of each other. There is meaning that overlaps the three celebrations. Essentially they are all reflecting on, 'Is the person I've been this year the kinda person I want to be?'"
Roger Epstein will read a prayer from the Rosh Hashana service, the Jewish New Year observance that began today. "I will be talking about the significance of Rosh Hashana. It's quite a bit about forgiveness and reviewing what we've done in the past year, and asking the powers that be to help us forgive ourselves and others, and to have others forgive us, so we can move on."
Epstein, a leader of the Hawaii Forgiveness Project, is a supporter of All Believers Network, which he says may be unique in the nation.
"Praying together is really helpful to understanding people. You don't get much closer than that to understanding." Meeting people of other beliefs helps "to recognize that basically all religions are languages to communicate with the eternal energy source ... whether you call it God or whatever you call it," Epstein said. "The idea that so many religions have, that theirs is the only one, is patently absurd. It's clear that the (God) that each is talking about is the same one."
Hindus understand divinity in terms of many gods and goddesses. The goddess Durga defeated an evil king and restored heaven to the gods, according to Hindu mythology. Believers pray to her for protection from evil, and to bring peace and prosperity.
"It's a victory celebration, the victory of good over evil," said Dharm P.S. Bhawuk, who will recite prayers from the 700-verse epic describing Durga's triumph.
It is a major holiday in parts of India and his native Nepal, Bhawuk said. "People would fast for nine days. Basically it is to purify your mind and body. What my wife and I do is to eat only fruits." Hindus may pray and fast with the goal of overcoming some obstacle in their lives. "For Hindus, it is as much social as it is spiritual."
Bhawuk, a University of Hawaii professor, is delighted with the location of the interfaith prayer. "What better place than the center of power for different people to come together? I'm going to celebrate with you and you're going to celebrate with me."
Hakim Ouansafi of the Muslim Association of Hawaii will read a passage from the Quran and quotations of the Prophet Muhammad "telling our best example of how we should act and behave."
Ouansafi participates in interfaith activities when "people explain their relationship the way it is, without having to give up some of what the religion stands for. We have a beautiful religion and we don't need to water it down."
Ramadan is best known to outsiders as a time of fasting from dawn to dusk. But Muslims think of it not as a time of doing without, but as a time to do good, particularly by contributing to charities. "Ramadan brings out all the good things humanity has in their hearts," Ouansafi said.
Tomorrow's gathering will be an opportunity to share with non-Muslims that the "commonalities among religions are many," he said. "We tend to emphasize differences. In view of recent unfortunate comments from the president and the pope, it tells us much work is to be done."
In an effort to mine profound thoughts and deep meaning from the Hebrew, Hindu and Muslim scriptures, the speakers were asked to provide the texts of their talks tomorrow. They were united in not being prepared to do so.
But Mike Young provided the text of a song that will be sung at the service. It's the familiar song "Lean on Me." It seemed to have depth and profundity in its own simple way.
"Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show.
"Lean on me when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend. I'll help carry you on, for it won't be long till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.
"Just call on me, brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you'd understand. We all need somebody to lean on."
Ramadan is also a time to share faith with non-Muslims
The sighting of the new moon this weekend will signal the beginning of the sacred month of Ramadan for island Muslims.
Followers of Islam around the world will turn away from physical pleasures and focus on their spiritual selves for the next month, which marks the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad in the sixth century. Fasting is one of the fundamental religious practices, called Five Pillars, of Islam.
Adults abstain from food and drink, smoking and sexual relations from dawn to dusk during Ramadan. Muslims are also challenged to refrain from slander, lying, gossip and making false oaths or exhibiting expressions of greed or covetousness.
An Islamic scholar from Australia will be the guest speaker at the Manoa mosque during Ramadan. Mohamad Abdalla, director of the Islamic Research Center at Griffith University in Brisbane, will speak at the nightly prayer meeting. A portion of the Quran is recited each night and the entire book is traditionally completed by the end of the month.
The Muslim Association of Hawaii will invite non-Muslims to hear Abdalla lecture about the prophet Muhammad and the teachings of Islam, said association spokesman Hakim Ouansafi. The dates of the public talks have not been set.
The local plan follows a national "Sharing Ramadan" outreach effort intended to help Americans meet and understand Muslims in their communities. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights and advocacy group, urges mosque members to invite people in their communities to join them at a Ramadan iftar, the evening meal at which Muslims break their all-day fast.
"Fasting from food and pleasures is a small part of the idea of Ramadan," Ouansafi said. "It is so you can feel how poor people feel; it pushes you to be more generous. The goal of Ramadan is to donate to charity generously. Ramadan brings out the good things humanity has in their hearts. If you don't do charitable acts, acts of kindness, there is no one to blame but yourself. The prophet said ... whatever you give in charity comes back tenfold."
He added: "We look forward to sharing with our neighbors the blessings of Ramadan, exactly what God intended for us human beings. It is an opportunity to get to know people of other faiths."