By Elena Dini
ROME — Public health directives intended to contain the spread of COVID-19 have imposed the same restrictions on Muslims during Ramadan as those experienced by Jews and Christians during their sacred festal periods earlier this spring. In Rome, these directives prohibit believers from gathering, though these measures are expected to be loosened soon.
During the sacred month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. At sunset, they enjoy an iftar, a large meal with family and friends that breaks the fast. Given the current measures, many Muslims have been connecting virtually every day since Ramadan began April 23 to share in this important moment.
On May 8, some Lay Centre staff, resident scholars and alumni joined the Istituto Tevere, which promotes interreligious dialogue in Rome, and other Muslim friends for an online iftar.
“Although we are not together around a table, let’s take the time to get to know each other as we would do in person,” said Cenap Aydin, a Lay Centre alumnus and the director of Istituto Tevere, at the beginning of the meeting. He opened the floor for each participant to introduce themselves, creating a fraternal atmosphere.
Aydin invited Donna Orsuto, the director of The Lay Centre, to share a few thoughts prior to breaking the fast. She suggested a short text by St. John Cassian, a monk who lived between Bethlehem, Egypt and Constantinople during the fourth and fifth centuries and who was very experienced in fasting.
“In order to preserve the mind and body in a perfect condition, abstinence from food alone is not sufficient, unless the other virtues of the mind as well are joined to it,” said Orsuto, citing Cassian.
Anger, vainglory, pride, and subtle attachments impede our path towards God, she said. Cassian refers to a typical human attitude, that of “shifting and wandering thoughts of the mind.” When this happens, said Orsuto, people are invited to “enter into the continuous recollection of God.”
During the discussion, some participants shared how fasting helps with focus and the exercise of control over one’s desires.
In a related development, Pope Francis has invited people of all faiths to join in a day of prayer, fasting and charitable works for an end to the pandemic May 14. The initiative was developed upon the proposal of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, created after the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity by the pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in February 2019.
Watch the video about the May 14 initiative here:
Photo: Wikimedia Commons - sunset during Ramadan