Pastor joins Muslims in Ramadan month of prayers, fasting
DANNY GAWLOWSKI THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Ben Ries, pastor of the Sterling Drive Church of Christ, center left, talks with Monem Salam, center right, as a group of local Muslims meet at a community room at the Bellingham RE Store to break their daily Ramadan fast and pray together on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2009. Ries has decided to participate in day-long fasts during the Islamic celebration of Ramadan, which lasts from Aug. 22 to Sept. 19 this year. Ries hopes that his actions will help bridge the gap between Christian and Mulsim communities. "It enhances your own understanding and broadens your worldview," Ries said.
DEAN KAHN; THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Published: 08/27/09 2:05 pm | Updated: 08/28/09 5:25 pm
Ben Ries of Bellingham is observing Ramadan, the Muslim holy period of fasting and prayers.
That's quite a commitment, because Ramadan entails forgoing food and liquids during daylight hours for a month.
It's also unusual because Ries is the pastor of Sterling Drive Church of Christ.
Ries holds firmly to his faith, but says his fasting, prayer and reflection during Ramadan can help him become a better Christian, as well as a better pastor, husband, father, and member of a diverse world often fractured along religious lines.
"Part of my reflection is, 'Who am I in this world?'" he said. "I'm not so narcissistic to think I have everything figured out."
Ries, 30, became pastor of his small Bellingham church two years ago. In the past, he has observed limited fasting during Lent and one-day fasts while a student, but nothing as rigorous as Ramadan's month of daytime fasting.
Ramadan marks the month in which Muslims believe the Quran, their holy book, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. This year, Ramadan started Aug. 22 and ends Sept. 19.
About a week before Ramadan began, Ries learned that Brian McLaren, a nationally known evangelical writer and speaker, planned to partner with a Muslim and observe Ramadan.
Ries, who met McLaren at a retreat earlier this summer, was intrigued by the idea. Ries knew little about Islam, but thought a good way to learn would be to experience Ramadan with a Muslim mentor.
He presumed that some people might be bothered by his decision, but sees no conflict with his Christian faith, and hopes the experience can be one healing step toward a better world.
"As a Christian, I believe this world is broken," he said. "It's not as it's supposed to be."
So he Googled "Bellingham" and "Muslim" and found Monem Salam's online forum about Islam at TheBellinghamHerald.com.
Salam is president of Saturna Brokerage Services, a subsidiary of Saturna Capital Corp., in Bellingham. Last year, Salam and his family were the subject of "On a Wing and a Prayer," a documentary about his effort to obtain a private pilot's license, and about their life as a Muslim family in a small American community.
Ries emailed Salam, and they met for lunch to discuss his request to have Salam be his mentor during Ramadan. Ries had never observed Ramadan before, and Salam had never partnered with a non-Muslim interested in doing so.
"It seem liked it could be a good partnership," Salam said. "We could both learn from each other."
Their families met over dinner, before Ramadan, and Ries and Salam will meet sometimes at community meals where people observing Ramadan break their daytime fast.
Ries has begun reading the Quran, and is keeping a journal about his reflections and experiences. He wakes up around 4 o'clock each morning, before sunrise, to pray and maybe eat.
"I'm not a big breakfast person, so it's been difficult for me," he said.
The daytime hunger isn't as bad as the daytime thirst, he said, but, unlike truly hungry people, he knows there's sustenance once the sun goes down.
"It raises your awareness about hunger in the world," Ries said.
The documentary about Salam and his family shed light on what it's like to be Muslim in America. By observing Ramadan, Ries can spread that light further by sharing his experience with his church members and other non-Muslims, Salam said.
"He's breaking some ground here," Salam said. "Hopefully, in the future, we'll have more individuals doing it."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Non-Muslim community members are welcome at a nightly fast-breaking by people observing Ramadan. For details and to RSVP, call 419-4148.
To read about evangelical author Brian McLaren's observation of Ramadan, see brianmclaren.net.