Lacey mosque helps cultivate connections among religions

LACEY - Over a meal of Vietnamese noodles, pad thai and biryani, a rice dish, at the Mosque Masjid Al-Nur in Lacey, people broke both a daylong fast and some cultural barriers Sunday night.

The members of the mosque invited members of Temple Beth Hatfiloh, the Jewish temple in Olympia, for an Iftaar, a breaking of the daily fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"Food is one thing that brings people together, especially after you've been fasting," said Mustafa Mohamedali, a member of the mosque and one of the event organizers.

It was the second cultural exchange in a week. Members of the mosque visited the temple last Monday to celebrate Sukkot, a festival celebrating the fall harvest and commemorating Exodus.

For the second year in a row, Ramadan and the Jewish holidays of Sukkot, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana fell roughly during the same time period. The next time those holidays coincide will be in about 30 years.

The celebrations in the past month have been part of a years-long exchange between the mosque and the temple.

Members of the religious groups have been meeting since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in "Compassionate Listening" groups, a type of discussion that emphasizes hearing another person's point of view, rather than on what one wants to hear.

"We wanted to get to know each other, learn about one another's culture, learn about each other's religious traditions and work toward peace in the world," said Susan Rosen, with the Temple Beth Hatfiloh.

"This particular year, many Jews and Muslims are doing this throughout the country," she added.

"We're sharing our similarities," mosque member Fauziya Muhamedali said. She said that the celebration attracted more than the members of the two religious groups. "It's not just Muslims and Jews here. We have Catholics and Lutherans here, too."

Jim Shulroff, a member of the temple, said that being invited to each other's ceremonies is an opportunity to experience and discuss how two religions share similar roots.

"It makes it feel like a deeper cultural exchange," he said. "We may not discuss what are the similarities between our religions over a game of backgammon."

Many shared Shulroff's sentiments.

"We both understand the similarities between our religions. The word for 'charity' for both (Arabic and Hebrew) is indistinguishable," said Amy Annette Winslow, a member of the mosque.

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or vbuhain@theolympian.com. Holy Days

- Ramadan (Sept. 24-Oct. 23): The ninth month of the Muslim calendar and a time of fasting and reflection. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr is Oct. 24.

- Rosh Hashana (Sept. 23-24): New Year's day on the Jewish calendar.

- Yom Kippur (Oct. 2): The Day of Atonement and one of the Jewish High Holy Days, celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri, the first month of the Jewish calendar. This year, Yom Kippur was Oct. 2.

- Sukkot (Oct. 8): A celebration of the harvest and commemoration of the wandering of the Israelites through the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt.

Sources: Webster's New World College Dictionary, Thurston Council of Cultural Diversity and Human Rights calendar