By Mary Chiang, guest of the sisters
Every year, Jewish, Christians, and Muslims celebrate their holidays and feasts. But this year, the three Abrahamic religions celebrate their most holy tradition, in tandem. This only happens every 33 years. Each religion celebrates and remembers the very events which define their unique religious identity.
The Jewish Passover (April 15- 23) recalls God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt; Lent and Easter (March 2-April 17) revisits the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Messiah, Savior of the world; and Ramadan (April 2-May 1) the month on the Islamic calendar where Mohammed was commanded by the angel Gabriel to recite the words of the Q’uran. According to a 2015 study conducted by Pew Research, more than 55.5% of the entire world population identify as Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. It is well worth pausing to consider what could result if over half the population of the earth were to turn to God and agree with one prayer. What would it be? Most of my prayers have to do with what I want for me and for people I know. If the prayer were directed outwardly for God to bless/help/heal my religious neighbors, how would God answer? Moreover, how would I change if I prayed this prayer for a month?
Each religion has their own expressions of faith. They assemble to remember, honor and recommit themselves and their most cherished communities to the God whom they call upon. For Muslims and Christians, this time is set aside each year to fast, pray and give to the poor. All three religions celebrate with feasting and traditional activities bringing new generations into remembrance of God’s work among God’s people.
After living in Morocco for 16 years, the rhythms of Ramadan come almost naturally to me. I know when it’s time to prepare certain foods a month before Ramadan. I remember when my Muslim friends begin to “practice” fasting up to two months before Ramadan. They often fast after Ramadan is over for “extra credit” or to make up for days where they didn’t fast. Particularly for women, the overall time of fasting goes well over a month, when fasting isn’t required while on their period. If a man is caught eating, he could face three months in jail. Restaurants usually close for the month and McDonalds becomes the caretaker’s and the foreigner’s default lunch place.
During Ramadan, generally anyone aged 13 and above who is healthy and able is required to fast from food and water as well as other forms of pleasure, (like cigarettes and sex) during the day. The fast is broken at dusk with a date and water or milk, and other breakfast foods. The regular workday is shortened for a whole month. Traffic at the end of the day in the city of Casablanca is usually full of impatient, strung out, nicotine and caffeine-withdrawn people, trying to get home before sunset and the evening prayer. The Call to Prayer is made through extra-speakers and bull horns set out for the season. In some cities, empty canons are shot and then the Call to Prayer confirms the sunset and begins the evening prayer which is recited in unison.
Ironically, just after all the stressful rush to get somewhere to break the fast, the moment just before the Call to Prayer is one of the most beautiful times of stillness. The silence seems to settle in as all attention is captured by the glimpse of a blazing sky transforming into twilight. Shops are closed and streets are completely empty. Even the birds and alley cats quiet down. Soon sounds of utensils and dishes, and very gentle conversations give way to the relief of the passing of another day and of thanksgiving for the real treasures of life.
Ramadan in my experience is both a beauty, for its idealism and a beast for its reality. The striving toward holiness in the practices of fasting, prayer and mercy is a month-long collective way of life where family, communities and whole nations offer spiritual and physical gifts to God and neighbor. Like all spiritual practices, it is messy and challenging, and the goal is to abide in patience and generosity toward all people, and especially to remember the poor. Often very few people can endure fasting from water and food all day and remain patient, alert and kind. But the moments of revelation, the sense of family, friendship and community, coming together and feasting on the gifts of life, is what is offered in this season.
As a single Asian American Christian woman, renting an apartment above a family of Moroccan Amazigh people, I was welcomed as family, neighbor and friend by Muslims. When I first went to live in a Muslim country overseas, I expected difficulty. But I never expected my experience with Muslim families to be so extremely good. There are infinite differences about God, religion, the scriptures and the way they are applied in practice between Christians and Muslims. But after living among them as a foreigner, I have heard them say, “Christians are better than Muslims…” For me, I would tell others, “Muslims are better than Christians because they taught me what hospitality is, and especially to the stranger.” Now, after living at Holy Wisdom Monastery, I say, not one is better than another, but both Benedictines and Moroccan Muslims really know hospitality.
La Conviviencia translated from Spanish means, co-existence. It is a term which refers to a nearly 800-year period of time (700s-1492) when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together neither at war nor in tension with each other. When asking what they thought about Jewish people, my teachers would tell us how they played in the streets together with Jewish kids who identified as Moroccans. Then I heard the story of Sultan Mohammed V, who ruled Morocco during the French occupation and World War II. When Hitler asked for the 250,000 Jewish people residing in Morocco to be handed over to Nazi concentration camps, the Sultan replied, “We have no Jews, only Moroccans.” La Conviviencia, is sometimes referred to by people who long for a kind of utopian world of religious peace and tolerance. The examples I’ve given help me believe that La Conviviencia, even today is possible. I venture to say, my experience in Morocco was like “La Nueva Conviviencia,” a new harmony between religions.
In Miriam Brown and Clare Wagner’s article called Let Us Set Out, they quote Ervin Laszlo, father of systems science, “No new chapter in human civilization will ever emerge if we just sit around waiting for a holistic convergence.” The convergence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam existed in La Conviviencia and reminds us every 33 years that it does happen. In the remaining holy days of this month, what prayers do you offer for the three Abrahamic religions? Might I propose that “La Nueva Conviviencia” find its way in our prayers for all people and all faiths?
 Jarrell, M. J. (2022, April 11). In 2022 Passover, Ramadan, and Easter all fall in April, a coincidence that happens only about every 33 years. Lees McRae College. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.lmc.edu/about/news-center/articles/2022/in-2022-passover,-ramadan,-and-easter-all-fall-in-april,-a-coincidence-that-happens-only-about-every-33-years.htm
 Hackett, C., & McClendon, D. (2020, May 31). Christians remain world’s largest religious group, but they are declining in Europe. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/
 La Convivencia. (2022, April 11). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Convivencia
 Miriam Brown, OP and Clare Wagner, OP. (2014). Let Us Set Out [Light for Each Other].
Mary, I wanted to thank you for your essay here about Islam in Morocco. I got to experience Islam in Turkey in 1965. I was fascinated with the sounds of the calls to prayer. I saw Hagia Sophia which was the great Greek church. After the Turkish Muslims conquered Constantinople, they realized it was too beautiful to destroy. So they covered up the gold mosaics and made it into a mosque. The church had been facing east, but the Muslims had to face Mecca, so the floor was laid out diagonally!
My father was in Yemen in 1930 because my great-grandfather was interested in the Arabs. He sent Dad in with implements and he also sent an engineer who soon discovered the first oil in the area. So my family has had an interest in Muslims.
In college I made friends with a Moroccan Muslim. My son is a professor of Asian history at an art college in NY. His specialty is Islamic studies. He did his phd research in Malaysia and wrote a book about the Islamic scholars there.
I had difficulty conversing with you at the coffee hour table because of all the people around me talking at once!
WoW Charles! What a fascinating influence Islam has had in you and your family. What a privilege to be able to go into those countries and to have that first hand experience. Makes me think of how important it is to make room in my mind, purposefully to learn about the richness and wealth that different countries possess in their own histories. It’s often forgotten or overlooked bc of our present distractions.