In 2003, traumatized by an unfortunate turn in her financial situation and as a last resort, a Muslim woman with her children was forced to seek help at the old homeless shelter. The children were cranky and tired; Mom exhausted and tense to the extreme.
At the time of her intake procedure, the adjacent room filled with residents of the shelter as a Christian Bible service was about to begin.
A tenacious supervisor came up to the mother and invited her to the service. Tired, she shook off the invitation.
The staff person persisted however, and urged the mother to attend, whereupon the mother explained that as a Muslim she could not honor the invitation. In her fatigue and frustration she argued that by right she had religious freedom and she need not participate. Period.
Today, San Antonio’s nationally recognized Haven for Hope, a transitional facility for people experiencing homelessness, has an interfaith Chapel of Hope at the heart of the campus — a prayer and worship space open to all religious or non-religious people. The Golden Rule, which urges one to treat the other as one wishes to be treated himself, is printed in large golden cursive letters across the top wall. This is a guiding principle which can be found in every faith tradition.
This year at the beginning of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, some residents of Haven of the Islamic faith were asked if they would adhere to the rules of the fasting month, which is one of the obligatory Pillars of Islam.
The logistics of accommodating this reality were a little complicated, to say the least: Muslims eat and drink before the sun rises, then abstain from any intake until the sun sets, at which time the community gathers to break fast together and be in worship.
This routine is outside the regular meal service provided by the San Antonio Food Bank to Haven two times a day at specific meal times. How can the facility honor and respect the religious obligations and get food to the people fasting?
On the initiative of the Haven for Hope spiritual services director and her staff, efforts were made to engage the Food Bank in accommodating the meal delivery for the Muslims outside of regular serving times, and the Food Bank was able to organize accordingly and made special deliveries to Haven for those who were fulfilling their discipline of fasting.
Abraham, a resident at Haven who has been participating in the Islamic fast for the first time this year, says that not only has his fasting helped him to cleanse his body from toxins, but by giving the meals he received during the day to someone else, the practice has made him grow in understanding what voluntary abstention and charitable giving can mean on a spiritual level.
Haven’s spiritual services recognizes the importance of helping residents develop connections to their respective faith communities. Their active outreach to leaders of religious communities aids in developing such community connections.
During Ramadan the Muslim community gathers every evening at a masjid (islamic place of worship). Some drivers volunteered to pick up the men from Haven and take them to the masjid, where they could break their fast in community, partake in a meal and worship together. Visiting a masjid where, as in the case of the Muslim Children’s Education and Civic Center (MCECC) 73 nationalities congregate, is not only a worshipful, but indeed also an exciting multicultural experience.
Back at the interfaith Chapel at Haven for Hope, during the regular monthly “Islam Awareness Night,” residents watched a short DVD film about the fasting time, and a Member of MCECC spoke briefly about the basics of Islam. The Institute of Interfaith Dialogue served a wonderful meal to about 100 residents, one of whom enthusiastically exclaimed that he just needed to taste this “Moozlim Food.” Conversations around the tables provided satisfying dialogue and learning experiences.
Once the new crescent moon is sighted which signals the lunar arrival of the new month (July 17 or 18), Muslims will gather, after having given their portion of obligatory charity (zakat) to those in need, and celebrate the end of the fasting time with what is called Eid ul-Fitr.
On Sunday everybody is invited to the Eid Picnic at Raymond Russell Park.
*Featured/top image: Narjis Pierre (center) fasts at Haven for Hope in. Photo by Amir Ehsan.