Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the 14th Annual Interfaith Ramadan Fellowship Celebration. Dianna Wright, director of Ecclesial and Ecumenical Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, PC(USA) and I were invited to celebrate with them and make brief remarks. It was wonderful to be with, pray with, and reflect on hunger and food with our siblings of other religions, including my colleague Dr. Hisham Muharram, who runs the inspiring Good Tree Inc. Below are my words and I’ll add the recording when that is ready.
Salam and Shalom!
Thank you to Islamic Relief USA for your faithful work to feed people and to advocate for refugees, and to the USDA for hosting this Fellowship!
When I think about our common Abrahamic roots, one message in all our traditions stands out to me. Fear not! – Fear not, I believe, is a central message in all our Holy Books.
Isaiah says “Fear not, for I am with you.”
The Quran says that “Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of Allah] by night and by day, … shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have….”
Yet, fear is at the root of much of our everyday suffering and our divisions.
In the Gospels, John writes: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
And the words of Martin Luther King Jr. echo this when he said, “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.”
So, by practicing love our fear diminishes. One such loving practice is to ensure that every person has sufficient, culturally-appropriate and healthy food. When there is food sovereignty, there can be peace in the land. Ensuring the right to food is a central way to express love for our siblings.
15 years ago, I had the honor of gathering with Muslims, Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian leaders on a project called Sacred Foods. It was a joy to work with folks to explore the central and sacred place of food in our traditions.
We also considered how a food system can exploit people and destroy the environment, and ways to shift towards a more equitable and sustainable food and agriculture system. Today, the climate crisis adds increased urgency around the need to transform our food system.
The USDA can play a critical role in providing solutions when they center producers of color in order to better understand and support needed changes, and to root out racism. We can support existing conservation programs and avoid the false solutions of biofuels, factory farm biogas, and carbon markets, which fail to curb emissions and often hurt the environment in areas where people of color live. [Consider adding your name to this action alert asking the USDA to address the climate crisis]
My hope is that as people of many faiths, while we continue to meet the needs of poor and marginalized people, we will collaborate to push for the deep changes our world desperately needs. We, Presbyterians, would love to work with you on such endeavors.
In closing, once again, I wish my Muslim siblings, Ramadan Mubarak!
Here are the folks who spoke during the celebration, which was hosted by Alex Córdova, Center for Faith Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, Office of Partnerships & Public Engagement, USDA:
- Lisa Ramírez, Director, Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, USDA (who also gave remarks from Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA)
- Anwar Khan, President of Islamic Relief USA
- Fahmida Chhipa, Vice President of FAPAC, and Equal Opportunity Assistant to the Director, Civil Rights Office, National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky, Treasurer of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
- Dianna Wright, Director of Ecclesial and Ecumenical Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
- Andrew Kang Bartlett, Associate for National Hunger Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program
- Sumiya Khan, MS, RD, Program Director, Sanctuary Kitchen – CitySeed
- Hisham Muharram, Good Tree Inc.
- Melissa Rogers PhD, JD, Executive Director, White House Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Senior Advisor to the President for Faith and Public Policy
What Makes Food Sacred? Congregational Resources for the Abrahamic Traditions is a PDF resource created for congregations by the Sacred Foods Project. It includes an essay by Mazhar Hussaini called, “Islam and Sacred Food,” along with essays and resource ideas from Christian and Jewish traditions. Some of the contents are dated; other parts are timeless.
The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing