Saturday, September 18, 2010

"I'm putting nothing before God..."

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which went from 11 August-10 September this year, Muslims focus on prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Observant Muslims do not eat or drink from sun rise until sundown. Typically, a person will arise and eat, go the entire day not eating or drinking, then gather for a communal, or family meal after the sun sets. I remember when the great NBA center, Hakeem Olajuwon would fast during Ramadan and not miss any games.

Yesterday, I read a blog post on the Yahoo sports blog Shutdown Corner about Husain Abdullah, a starting safety for the Minnesota Vikings, who, along with his brother, a player for the Arizona Cardinals, is an observant Muslim.


"Even while sprinting in the heat and humidity during drills, sometimes in full pads, Abdullah is adamant about his faith. He will not allow himself so much as a cup of water until the sun sets and before it rises.

'I’m putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion,'Abdullah said. 'This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do. So I’m always going to fast'."

In fact, on the last day of Ramadan, I posted as my Facebook profile that I have "taken to calling [my]self religious, but not spiritual." My reason for doing this is because the word religion is too often reduced to its worst possible connotation, becoming for too many controlling, fear-inducing, dictatorial, superstitious, etc. In reality, religion has an object, God, while spirituality, it seems for many, is mostly about self-absorption and not taking risks. So, the difference is between who has the priority, self or the Other? Being spiritual can mean nothing other than being religious because being spiritual requires a spirituality, which is not something you haphazardly make up as you go along, but a well-worn pilgrim path that puts the self in its place both in relation to God and in relation to others.

I like his "I'm putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion" because it shows that Abdullah understands that intricate connection between religion and God, religion being nothing other than following the well-established path to God, which is not your own path, but one trod by many pilgrims before you. When it comes to the great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam we all worship the God of Israel, the God of the patriarchs. Hence, our praxis (i.e., what we do) is very similar, in some cases identical. At the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic practice are the indispensable disciplines of prayer, fasting, alms-giving. Fasting is the middle because it connects prayer, which is worship of God in accordance with the commandment to put God first, above all things, with alms-giving, which is love of neighbor. By fasting we acknowledge that it is not about me, but about God and neighbor. Western spirituality, such as it is, puts self at the center, the self becomes the object, the end. This is a distortion.

I am glad for the witness of people like Husain and that of my observant Jewish friends, with whom I continue to pray in solidarity as they continue their observance of their highest and holiest day, Yom Kippur. As a portion of last evening's Kol Nidre prayer goes: "May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault."

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