Where did you have your first taste of samosas, chipatis, dal or a host of other Indian dishes? They now regularly spice up our increasingly internationalized Canadian palates. These dishes made it into my family’s diet in the early 1980s not because of a trip to Asia or East Africa but because of daycare.
Nargis Bhimji had come to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, from her native Zanzibar via Idi Amin’s Uganda and then on with her family to Canada as refugees. Nargis’ husband, Dr. Raza Bhimji, found work providing health services to communities in Northern Canada. Nargis raised her own family and as well opened her home to a number of very privileged families. Her home daycare provide both our children with not only superior care but also an early inter-cultural experience which included an introduction to Indian taste treats.
Our children, along with us, also learned how a Muslim family lived, faithful to their beliefs, as religious pioneers in Saskatchewan. Nargis took care to explain to us the basics of Islam. Her kindness opened our minds and hearts to her family’s faith tradition. Often on my travels she would give me a list of hard to find foods that met her faith’s dietary strictures. I actually found most of what she needed in Jewish food stores. Kosher foods satisfied many of their needs.
The Bhimji family will begin their annual month of Ramadan practices next Friday. They, along with over 750,000 mostly immigrant and first generation Canadian Muslims, will join over a billion other Muslims world-wide in fasting from dawn to dusk everyday. “O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation.” Quran 2:183
Fasting traditions seek to refocus attention on core values and away from worldly priorities. Reflection on and attentiveness to God are stressed. Islamic scholars trace this pillar of their religion back to early Abrahamic tradition with its broad social focus. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6-7
Obviously fasting strengthens self control. Another benefit of this daily ritual of denial is heightened empathy for those who have less, the hungry among us. The additional health benefits of breaking consumer-society habits of overindulgence should go without saying.
Ramadan clearly offers not only Muslims but all of us a call to pause and reflect on the current mess we are in globally. Any remedies to our current conundrums will require strong counter-cultural measures that refocus us on building systems based on life sustaining ethics. Maybe the call of Ramadan should be one that is answered globally. “Ramadan is an opportunity to gain by giving up, to prosper by going without and to grow stronger by enduring weakness.” (www.submission.org/ramadan/about-R.html)
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.
Saturday, August 15 – Assumption of Mary commemorates the Christian belief that the Blessed Virgin was assumed body and soul into heaven at her death.
Saturday, August 15 – Catherine Doherty, social justice advocate and founder of the Madonna House Apostolate, which Maryhouse in Whitehorse is part of, was born in 1896.
Sunday, August 16 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Suggested reading John 6:51-58.
Monday, August 17 – Paryushana Parva begins an eight-day Jain festival signifying human emergence into a new world of spiritual and moral refinement.
Thursday, August 20 – Ramadan begins at sunset for the Muslim faithful in North and South America.