Categorized | Editorial

Food can be a key to interfaith understanding

Posted on 26 June 2015 by admin

Religion turns eating into sacred acts. In Islam it’s the Iftar, the meal that breaks the fast every night throughout the month of Ramadan. There are corresponding events in other religions.

Ramadan began last Thursday. The GTA Intercultural Dialogue Institute is arranging for Torontonians of all faiths and none to join Muslims to break their fast with them. It’s a most laudable project that opens up new possibilities for interfaith co-operation. I’m delighted that members of the congregation I served are among the participants.

The spirituality of eating with people across religious divides goes much further than is normally offered at interfaith gatherings, which often consist of discourses about history and theology. These are important in imparting information but it’s less clear if they actually bring people closer together. Eating does.

The prohibition to consume alcohol in Islam and in some Christian traditions is also relevant. To understand the reasons opens up further possibilities of mutual appreciation. The insistence by some Jews on kosher wine can be a way of understanding Judaism.

Various degrees of vegetarianism across religious divides usually reflect important attitudes to life in general and the animal world in particular. This dimension of the spirituality of eating has gained prominence in our culture in recent years.

In our time, eating and ecology has become an important issue in many religions. It points to the scandal of hunger around the world and over-eating in our own society. It reminds us, in a powerful symbiosis of religious convictions and political action, of our responsibility to seek to ease the suffering of those who go hungry.

All this suggests that the conventional encounters between members of churches, synagogues and — alas, still too rarely — mosques may need to be augmented by cooking and eating together. Instead of inviting each other to yet another talk we might do well to show each other why we eat the foods that shape our lives and how we prepare them.

As what we eat and how we eat reflects both culture and religion, the Intercultural Dialogue Institute seems well suited to show us the way. Its invitation to celebrate Iftar with Muslim friends is, I hope, only a beginning.

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