For many Christians, Lent is a time for reflection, prayer and self denial. ‘I’m giving up XYZ for Lent’ is a typical refrain heard during the period, as people abstain from their vices to reflect the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert.
In an excellent show of interfaith solidarity, the last few years have seen many Muslims give something up for Lent in support of Christian friends. While not necessarily a groundbreaking global movement, the hashtag #Muslims4Lent (or similar variations) has spread across social media.
— Bassel Riche (@basselriche) March 1, 2017
Interestingly, the movement seems to have inspired a reciprocation among Christians. During recent Ramadans, #Christians4Ramadan has also appeared on websites like Twitter and Instagram.
— Mary Stallard (@StaryMallard) July 5, 2016
While such tweets certainly don’t confirm that their authors are sticking to their unfamiliar – and in the case of Ramadan, extremely tough – abstentions, they still carry an important value: They represent a willingness to learn about different faiths, a concerted gesture of understanding, and they are evidence of the fact that we have more in common than we often think.
For a start, look at the similarities between Ramadan and Lent. Although a month long fast is undeniably harder than, say, giving up pizza for 40 days, both periods ask us to reflect on what we have in an effort to bring us closer to our families, communities and our faith. The lessons learned through self-discipline are then carried throughout the year, making for better people and better believers.
There are even examples of these gestures making one faith group more mindful of their religion. When the Leeds Muslim Youth Group observed Lent in 2016, it inspired many Christians to reevaluate their own commitment to the 40 days. One member of the Christian group Focolare said: ‘I felt almost embarrassed that I lived Lent in such a half-hearted manner, and here were our Muslim brothers and sisters leading by example.’ In turn, members of Focolare in Leeds started a #Christians4Ramadan movement.
The reason we highlight these moments is not to judge one faith against another. Instead, they allow us to show how people of all religions share similar values, even if those values stem from different texts.
While something like #Muslims4Lent or #Christians4Ramadan might not be the biggest show of interfaith openness, the fact they are being shared on a platform like Twitter hints at how far these gestures can travel. They have the capacity to reach people who would have never otherwise known that this solidarity existed; that interfaith unity was real, not just in theory but in practice.
People often mention the power of social media in imprecise terms. However, this is a concrete example of its power being used for good.
Featured image credit: @viabassel.