This op-ed written by WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps Member Eric Scharf (Costa Rica) was originally published in La República in Spanish.
On April 13th of the Gregorian calendar, Muslims of around the world began the holy month of Ramadan on their calendar. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a month of daytime fasting, of struggle to improve, of purification, forgiveness, charity and understanding of one's neighbor. In this month Muhammad received his first revelation from the Qur'aan, the holy book of Islam. The sacrifice of fasting allows Muslims to approach Allah.
In a similar way, in Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar - approximately in the month of September of the Gregorian year - we. Jews, celebrate The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, which is a day of repentance of sins, purification, charity, and reconciliation with our loved ones. As in Muslim Ramadan, Yom Kippur is a sacred day of reflection and rapprochement of the Jews with God.
Ramadan is an opportunity to meet with family and friends. Muslims usually eat breakfast and pray together before sunrise and reunite at dusk to share dinner. Likewise, Yom Kippur is typically the day of the year when synagogues are fuller, as Jews gather to pray and then finish fasting with full family dinners.
Prior to the pandemic that has prevented us from getting closer to friends and family, I had the opportunity to live one of the most enriching experiences in my efforts for interreligious coexistence. Some members of Costa Rican Jewish community organized and offered members of our country's Muslim community an Iftar dinner for the closure of Ramadan fasting. Since Jewish kosher food complies with the same rules as Muslim halal food, it was not difficult to choose dishes and respect the Islam traditions at this dinner.
But more than a culinary experience, that night was a celebration of respect, tolerance, brotherhood, reflection and spirituality. It was a great example of how to combat unjustified prejudices that often separate human beings and deprive us of friendships, social relations and, most importantly, of peace.
The fasts of Ramadan and Yom Kippur allow us to be compassionate to others, by experiencing the shortages and limitations that they forcibly face because of poverty, the pandemic or other situations. These sacred days also teach us that faith and willpower can be used to deprive us of the pleasure of food in order to respect a religious disposition. But this same willpower can be the tool that allows us to achieve more difficult goals, such as consciously seeking dialogue and peaceful coexistence with those who are different from us.
I hope that in this month of Ramadan, both Muslim and non-Muslim can ponder on empathy and tolerance, in order to break the mental chains that often enslave us against diversity and mutual respect. The obstacle are not our differences, but the people who use those differences to exclude and discriminate against those who are different to us. I wish we will all find a way to experience the energy and vigor of the "fasting", each in our own way, to achieve a better understanding, greater acceptance of the pluralism of the human being and a more fraternal society.
To the Muslims of Costa Rica and the rest of the world, I wish you a Ramadan Mubarak!
The WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps is the flagship program of the World Jewish Congress, under the vision and leadership of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. This program empowers the new generations of outstanding Jewish leaders. A selective worldwide network of over 300 Jewish young professionals from 50 countries receiving opportunities, experience, and skills to impact Jewish interests through diplomacy and public policy.