A few months back, I found myself wandering the bookstores in Columbia, searching for a title or subject that caught my attention and my frame of mind. My last, and sometimes first, resort is the bookstore/coffee shop at the mall and I waited patiently for an associate to help me in my quest.
A woman and her 17-year-old daughter were also waiting for assistance and their conversation caught my attention. The daughter was excited about the 2008 elections, her long-awaited coming-of-age and “Right to Vote,” and was researching the candidates and issues. Her mother, excited to hear her daughter’s growing patriotism, reminded her that the fastest growing ethnic community in the United States is Hispanic. She talked about Cuban exiles, the American southwest and how this is a country of immigrants.
She was right, of course, and I added my two cents, “And did you also know that the fastest growing religious community in the U.S. is Islam?”
The mother turned her daughter away from the heretic, saying, with too much disgust in her voice, “That’s a damn shame!”
This month, we find ourselves in a wonderful alignment of the stars, moon and sun of two great lunar calendars. This is the holiest of holy times for Judaism and Islam.
For the Jewish community, it is the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days, the 10-day period marked by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year. It is not time for celebration but a time of reflection and self-examination, a new beginning. It is a time to ask for forgiveness, not only from God but also from anyone and everyone whom we might have harmed in error or purposefully. If one cannot forgive his or her neighbor, how can one expect forgiveness from God? How can one be expected to be written in the Book of Life for another year?
Yom Kippur, the closing of the High Holy Days, entails a 25-hour complete fast, from sundown to sundown. No food and no water, just self-reflection, to show God and oneself that one can maintain the discipline to attain goodness. A complete fast is not an easy thing to do.
Islam also celebrates their holiest of days, the month of Ramadan, starting this week. It is a time of self-reflection and celebration of the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad. Muslims also fast, from sunrise to sunset each day for the entire month of Ramadan. It is a complete fast meant to cleanse the mind, to recognize those less fortunate, to bring personal peace and to attain goodness.
Judaism and Islam represent a very small segment of our population, yet both receive a disproportion of hatred, anger and misunderstanding. The woman I met that day in the bookstore is, unfortunately, part of the problem, not the solution. Her anger with Islam, and very likely with Judaism, reflects the anger many groups have to those who believe differently. I have heard too often from great societies, political parties and religious orders the incorrect declaration of “We are right. You are wrong. Remember that and we will allow you to live.” We all discriminate, even the heathens among us.
I urge you to take the time to understand your neighbors and their beliefs. I challenge you to observe a fast, either for Yom Kippur, beginning at sundown September 21 until sundown September 22, or from sunrise to sunset daily until October 12, the end of Ramadan. I challenge you to join worship services, as I will, and discuss the meaning of your life on this small blue planet. Ask for forgiveness from others and give forgiveness to those who seek it. Find your holiness by understanding your neighbors, not condemning them for their differences. Be holy in your actions.
Ramadan Mubarak — L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu — May you be blessed.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.