Odd Man In: Day 12 of Ramadan

Last week, I posted about the difficulty of fasting alone. Many of my readers responded and invited me to iftar. Twice over the weekend, I participated in breaking the fast with a Muslim community, with plans to do so several times in the future, including tonight (Tuesday) at the Irving mosque.

One reader, named Jami, also commented, “Ramadan is easier, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling when done in community. But going at it alone also has benefits and can provide insight. In particular, I think it helps us identify with minorities and what it is like to be the odd one, with different customs and habits, out of sync with the rest of society — and that can, hopefully, make us more empathetic to that situation.”

I’ve meditated on this comment over the last few days, because I think it gets at the heart of my fasting experiment. As I fast, I realize that I have become the “odd one” in two different ways.

One, I am the odd man out in my family, church, and familiar circle of friends. I am not able to eat lunch or dinner with them. I have to politely decline the doughnuts in staff meeting, and say, “No thanks” to the cup of coffee offered me. My friends joke with me in a good-natured way about my fasting.

This is not a hardship, of course, but it does remind me of the situation of minorities in our culture. Not just religious minorities, but anyone who is simply different from the dominant culture. Minorities must constantly wrestle with their identity, and have to work hard to keep from being swallowed up by those around them.
I can imagine that it would be very difficult to be a Muslim in a country that mostly assumes that everyone around them is, at the least, a nominal Christian.

But there is another way in which I am finding myself to be the “odd one.” When I walk into a mosque, I feel the weight of hundreds of eyes upon me. It is plainly obvious that I am not a Muslim. I don’t wear the right clothes, and I don’t have my head covered. And I am a pale, bland white, in a sea of color.

This reminds me of living in Cameroon, West Africa. I was never more aware of my color and race than when walking the streets of Yaounde, or shopping in the markets of Douala, or worshipping in any one of our churches across the countryside. I was always “the white man” to the crowds.

This is an unnerving experience at first. Nobody likes to be the center of attention merely because of one’s difference from everyone else. You want to scream, “Hey, I’m just a guy like you!” But you can’t, because you really aren’t “just” like them. There are significant differences that can’t – and shouldn’t — be glossed over. They are differences, that’s all.

Slowly and surely, however, the experience of being the “Other” transforms the way you look at, and treat, the “Other.” In fact, you begin to stop using that word, “Other.” You start to reject the multitude of ways in which we build up prejudices and walls against people whom we are not like. You stop using language like “illegal aliens” and “towelheads” and other derogatory terms meant to put distance between you and someone else.

Indeed, being the “Other” creates empathy in us, and builds the foundation for us to begin to work to change the enmity that lies between us. Certainly there has been much enmity between Christians and Muslims in the past, but it is time to heal the wounds of the past and begin to live out a new future.

We have the resources in our sacred writings. For Christians, the words of the Golden Rule are a good starting point: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat the Other as if they were “One of You.”

For Muslims, the words of a Haddith may be helpful: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.” In other words, treat the Other as if they were “One of You.”

One day, perhaps we will grasp the essential unity of us all, and celebrate the beautiful diversity of us all.

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25 comments

  1. Nadia

    I lived in the Emirates for many years. In fact I went to school there.The national population there makes up no more than 20% of the population. Everyone else is an “other”. The students of my school represented over 70 different nationalities. In my own group of friends alone there was someone from Portugal, Spain, Iran, Poland, Yugoslavia, India, Syria, Italy and Egypt. The amazing thing about that was… everyone was a minority, and BECAUSE of that, no one was. Diversity is wonderful thing.

  2. Meg Swaid

    Interesting. And yes, as a solitary or nearly solitary muslim family we are often the odd folks out in the small town in which I live now and in which I was born and grew up as a Catholic. It is even necessary to downplay our identity for others in order to preserve their peace of mind. Unfortunately. On the other hand, it pays to understand the role of Mohamed, SA to all people pastor Wes. You see, the prophets came to specific communities of people in the past. Each group mentioned had it’s requisite prophet and vice versa. Mohamed, SA on the other hand came to all people as the final prophet. It is unfortunate that people ignore and abhor that idea but it shouldn’t be considered a terminal disease or problem. Through people like yourself who are widening the scope of experience and knowledge in your own communities, you are serving as a vital witness to the universalityy of the message of Islam that is carried in the Quran to all of humanity. It is a warning and it is a comfort. It is both general and specific. The message is for all time and it is to revive what has been lost throughout the ages via forgetfulness and ignorance (the act of ignoring not the lack of intellect).

    It continues to be a joy to witness your fast. Your credit with Allah is multiplied a thousand times over each and every time a person reads and reflects upon your journey here towards understanding because that is an act which is against ignorance just as Islam is against race and racism and ‘otherness’. Peace

  3. Mohammad

    Assalaam u ‘alaikum (Peace be upon you) brother Wes,

    I can’t even express how inspired I am from you. I was actually eagerly waiting for your posts regarding your ramadan experiences. In a way these made me appreciate the blessed month even more. certainly people like you make this world a better place. anyway I live in Arlington, TX. I would love to invite you to our masjid (center masjid, Arlington) to have Iftaar with us whenever it’s suitable for you. It’s not a big or a fancy masjid, may be you’ll find it a bit shabby but it’s all about experiencing it together. so let us know if you can. would appreciate a lot.
    Regards

    PS: waiting for your talk in KERA 🙂

    • wesmagruder

      Thank you, Mohammad. I will be breaking fast this Friday at Al-Hedayah in Arlington. But perhaps I will try to find a way to get to your masjid another time. Thanks for reaching out.

  4. Osman

    Wes,

    If you will be in Irving tonight as well, so I might just see you. I spend my weekdays in Irving and my weekends in McKinney.

    Your words are very inspiring. Text me if you have time and would like to get together again.

  5. Nicole Queen

    Ramadan Mubarak! I am a Christian who converted to Islam and I have been following and sharing your blog. I will be the MC tonight at the Irving iftar and I can’t wait to meet you Brother!

  6. rhodonna

    Yep,,, I just replied on that alone day blog of yours. Then read this one and shared it on my fb page. Yep, I understand “other” big time! It’s almost my identity. White, southern, twice divorced (first husband a white minister, second a black karate teacher) youngest child biracial, first grandchild half Mexican American, I live in a minority white, “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood, working to buy my home woman. my nearest adult relative lives 1000 miles away. oh, an I’m the only adult Muslim in my family or neighborhood (that I know of)….and when I do get to go to the Mosque, people look at me like I’m the FBI…..lol. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except to maybe be married to a good Muslim man. But at 54, I’m not really looking. God knows best what we need. I’m enjoying life and His blessings! A happy Ramadan to you sir!
    8-D

  7. Bara

    I just learned about your blog, and I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I REALLY appreciate what you are doing. Although you may simply be sharing what you are experiencing, your words are inspiring to both Muslims and people of other faiths (I am a Muslim), beautifully helping us acknowledge the compassion and understanding that we can and must extend to one another.

    Thanks!

  8. Azmat

    The radio show was really inspiring. Thanks for your positive input. i bet you didnt know starting out that you would get such popularity and acknowledgement 🙂 Good deeds can lead us to destinations unthought of.

  9. truthofcertainty

    Dear Wes,

    Great post! We certainly have more in common than we give credit for. As John F. Kennedy once said: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”

    On another note, I wanted to share with you an article I wrote a couple of years ago entitled, “What is Ramadan?” I hope that it will benefit you and other Christians whom you know.
    ———————————————————————————-
    What is Ramadan?

    The Muslims are excited. Some are decorating their homes and stocking up on dates and other Ramadan treats; others are meticulously planning their upcoming days, and sharing checklists of good deeds with their Muslim friends. Many are praying more, reading more Quran, giving more in charity, and making more visits to the mosque. Why all the commotion?

    Ramadan.

    That one word fills the Muslim heart with motivation, eagerness, and hope. Every moment counts in those 29 or 30 days, and the Muslims must make sure they are ready.

    The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar. It is the month of mercy, forgiveness, compassion, charity, inner reflection, renewal of the self, revival of spirituality, self-restraint, and connection to God.

    Most importantly, Ramadan is the month of the Quran (God’s words, never changed and never corrupted). Fourteen hundred and thirty one years ago, on a night better than a thousand months, God revealed the first verse of the Quran, through Angel Gabriel, to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him). That night — which Muslims call the Night of Power — happened to be in Ramadan.

    The message God sends in the Quran is clear: God is One. No one has the right to be worshiped but Him. Be conscious of Him at all times.

    So in Ramadan — in the month of the Quran — the Muslims refrain not only from drinking alcohol and smoking; not only from gambling, lying, and stealing; not only from vice and sin (all of which are forbidden throughout the whole year), but from something permissible: food and drink.

    The result of this fasting is self-discipline, consciousness of God, and awareness of His commands and prohibitions. For if one can forbear what God permits, then surely he can sacrifice what God forbids.

    Abstaining from vain speech and immoral deeds are also part of fasting. Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and are obligated under the fourth pillar of Islam to complete the fasting of every day in Ramadan. (Exceptions apply for those who may be physically harmed by fasting, such as those who are sick, etc.) The fast starts with the sighting of Ramadan’s crescent and ends when the next month’s crescent is visible.

    Without any doubt, the Muslims are anxiously preparing to welcome Ramadan, their familiar guest of honor. And even to the majority of non-Muslims, Ramadan’s values are no strangers.

  10. Paula Kerley

    Wes,
    I continue to be inspired by your willingness to “know others”, as we all know our common God. We are all His children and I am sure He is smiling as He watches this unfold. I also appreciate all of the wonderful commenters that are sharing. Makes me feel we are really all part of God’s plan.
    Prayers and thanks,
    Paula

  11. John

    Dear Wes,
    First and foremost I want to thank you for what you are doing. Breaking down barriers both emotionally and socially to adhere to tenets of another religion is a difficult and trying experience at times. I was raised by non-practicing Catholic parents but both of their parents were/are devout Catholics. I am of Irish heritage and I reverted (in Islam we believe that you are born a Muslim and you never convert to Islam, you revert back to your original state of being a Muslim) on September 12, 2008. I was very intrigued by the religion and I had a wonderful guider in my friend and future wife. She challenged me to fast Ramadan and I took up her challenge because I’m stubborn like that. After fasting I started attending the Masjid where I lived and I met a wonderful man, also Caucasian, who helped me understand what Ramadan was about and answer my questions about Islam. Ramadan started on the 1st or 2nd of September that year and in less that two weeks I felt myself being drawn back to the calling of God/Allah that I had always felt in some way. After moving back to Texas, where I was born and raised, I attended mosques and soon realized that I was the “odd man in”. That feeling that you are an outsider to the religion still persists to this day. I have been welcomed by many, many families. I married a Pakistani friend who came from a very tolerant and culturally open house hold. (Such marriages are rather rare in many parts of the Muslim world.) I have attended Eid-al-Fitr prayers where I could swear that I am the only Caucasian in a building full of Muslims. Take heart in knowing that though you may not walk the walk, talk the talk, or dress the dress, you are welcome wherever you go. You are especially welcome because you come bearing the olive branch of peace and understanding. We Muslims need to connect more with our brothers and sisters of in this life, regardless of faith and you are helping to break down barriers and open doors by your actions this Ramadan. Inshallah I will see you this Friday for iftar so I can thank you in person for what you are doing. Both sides of this, Muslims and Christians, need to come together and build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Thank you for what you have done, may God grant you ease in your fasting, and please keep up the exceptional work.

  12. Ahmadi

    Dear Wes, in a world full of hatred and suspicion, what you are doing is really inspiring. If you are to succeed in bringing your peaceful mission–that all religions are basically good and equal–don’t convert to Islam. Take some more time to learn what the “most pious” of them did and are doing to other people of different beliefs in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Somalia, Nigeria, or even Spain, UK, Sweden, France.

  13. Jessica

    This blog is really touching for me. In the past several years, I’ve grown further and further apart from my Christian faith because of the intolerance shown by members of the faith, and especially towards other religions – Islam in particular. It seemed like Christians were standing idly by as leaders in the faith exaggerated and denounced the perceived faults of other religions while conveniently ignoring Jesus’s call to love your neighbor.

    I’m so happy to see a leader in the Christian faith doing exactly the opposite. I hope more leaders become inspired by your dedication to understanding and solidarity with members of the Islamic community. I believe it is one of the most effective ways to bring understanding between the two communities, which – inexplicably, in my opinion – seem to be at each others throats.

  14. Nazim Hussain

    i am so touched by this blog and by the comments that followed. This only reinforce that this world is such a beautiful place. Thank you all for making this day start so great by these writings.

    Ramadan greetings to all

    Nazim Hussain from Guyana, SOUTH AMERICA

  15. Iqbal

    The information in this article to your blog is very meaningful to all people of faith ..
    though we are different religions but one purpose and that is peace

  16. Adrian

    I live in Indonesia, a most moslem-populated country. I am a Javanese-Moslem who live in Catholic majority, even my house is nearer to a church than mosque. Most of my neighbours are Chinese-Catholic, but they always come to my house after Eid-al-Fitr prayers and say Eid Mubarak to my family. It is a common habit in Indonesia to visit relatives, neighbours and friends then ask for forgiveness after Ramadhan.

  17. Ayse

    Dear Wes,

    I loved your blog. 🙂

    I want to invite you to Istanbul for the last ten days of Ramadan to fast and iftar near the blue mosque.

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