IftarCAPTION: From left, Imam Ejaz Sabir from the Islamic Society of Chester County, Father Mullin, Rabbi Jon Cutler from Beth Israel Congregation, and Rev. Tina Mackie from Saint Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, who participated in an interfaith dialogue and Iftar supper on June 13.

On June 13th Saint Elizabeth Parish warmly welcomed and hosted an interfaith dialogue and Iftar supper to build bridges across three of the faith traditions in northern Chester County.

Approximately 160 people attended the event from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. Attendees included members of Beth Israel Congregation, the Islamic Society of Chester County, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saint Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Saint Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church.

What is Iftar? Iftar is an Islamic religious observance meal during Ramadan. It occurs after the Maghrib prayer at sunset and traditionally three dates are eaten to break the fast in emulation of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Eating as a community is considered a form of charity.

The evening featured a panel discussion about aspects of the various faiths along with an event to foster understanding and friendship among the youth who attended (see sidebar for details). Following the panel discussion, there was a sundown prayer, a potluck meal with traditional food from each group, and lively fellowship.

Panelists included Rabbi Jon Cutler from Beth Israel Congregation, Imam Ejaz Sabir from the Islamic Society of Chester County, and Reverend Tina Mackie from Saint Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Father Mullin welcomed everyone and started the conversation by explaining that the purpose of the event was to develop mutual understanding of individual faith traditions and to promote common efforts in service to others. The panelists answered questions about their religious practices and the responsibility to others included in their faith traditions.

“This is a unique experience where Christians, Jews and Muslims come to celebrate Iftar in a Roman Catholic Church,” said Rabbi Cutler. “Remember, everyone is a stranger in Egypt and it is our responsibility to help the oppressed and marginalized. Everyone needs to take time to learn about others,” he said.

Reverend Mackie added, “We need to look outside of ourselves to consider the well-being of others. When everyone experiences God’s love and follows His example, violence does not have the last word.”

Imam Sabir explained, “The Holy Quran tells Muslims of their individual responsibilities and their direct relationship with God. Everyone will eventually stand before God and be held accountable for what they have done. Charity for all, woman’s rights, and the abolition of slavery is deeply rooted in our faith. God created man in a most dignified manner and does not have hate in His plan.”

Rabbi Cutler concluded by saying “We will remember tonight, but the real value of this evening is acting to make a positive difference in the world. This is not an end but a beginning.”

The event was a great success according to participant evaluations. Responders enjoyed the panel discussions, fellowship, table discussions, and food and thanked Saint Elizabeth Parish for hosting the evening. Many indicated they learned something new about other religions and left with a greater understanding of the similarities between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. One participant reflected, “Each religion is working towards justice, dignity of all humans and love, not hate. I felt humanity at its finest tonight!”

A combined team from the represented faith communities plans to review the evaluations and consider potential future efforts aimed at addressing hunger, homelessness, refugee support, and other opportunities to assist those in need among us.

-David Guthrie