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Mormons, Muslims break the fast in Southern California

Mormons and Muslims in Southern California recently broke the fast together at several events scheduled during Ramadan.

Ramadan is a 30-day religious period during which Muslims fast from before sunrise to about sunset. It is a common Muslim practice to invite people of other faiths to join them in an interfaith iftar, or fast-breaking dinner, one evening during Ramadan. Southern California Latter-day Saints participated in at least 10 different interfaith iftars throughout the area.

Sabiha Quidwai, Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC) executive assistant, explained that Ramadan is "a month of increased blessings and spiritual upliftment," and it is "the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is the month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk each day." She said, "The iftar, or fast breaking, takes place at sunset."

Besides these events, the Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach and Temecula stakes offered to host special break the fast events with their Muslim neighbors who in turn invited the LDS members to hold the event at the local mosques.

At the iftars, both Muslim and LDS leaders spoke at a brief service, after which the Muslims participated in evening prayers. Following the evening prayer, the groups met together for a meal, provided by the Muslims. There were members of other faiths at each of the dinners also, along with city officials.

In keeping with Muslim tradition, the call to prayer occurred at the time that the sun set that evening. Participants then broke their fasts with dates, bread or other simple items, before proceeding to evening prayer.

The LDS visitors were invited to observe the prayers. LDS women who attended wore head scarves, consistent with Muslim dress standards for women. After the evening prayer, the groups shared a large meal together. The dinners featured traditional Muslim foods such as lamb, couscous, rice and dates. About two dozen LDS members from each of the four stakes attended the events.

At each event, a member of the stake presidency addressed the group.

David Price, second counselor in the Garden Grove Stake presidency, told members assembled at the ISOC that LDS members believe that fasting helps members become more dependent on spiritual things, provides them with inspiration and helps members conquer challenges. He also discussed the role that fast offerings play in the LDS Church.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the ISOC, reminded the audience that Jesus was fasting when he received some revelations. He related that Muslims believe fasting helps them appreciate God's gifts, including food and water, and inspires them to use such gifts carefully. He also noted that Muslims appreciate the opportunity they have to fast willingly, while many people in the world are forced to go without food.

President Weatherford Clayton of the Newport Beach Stake, President Mike Zundel of the Mission Viejo Stake, and Larry Slusser, second counselor in the Temecula Stake presidency, also addressed Muslims and Mormons assembled at mosques in their areas.

"From my perspective, I think it is a remarkable event when a stake president of the church is given the opportunity to teach the principles of the gospel to those of the Muslim faith," commented Greg Briggs, second counselor in the Mission Viejo Stake presidency. "It was equally remarkable that many in the leadership of the church in Mission Viejo sat at dinner, in a mosque, with many of their Muslim neighbors and learned more about their faith."

Imam Yassir Fazaga of the Mission Viejo mosque, who participated in a church-sponsored tour of Salt Lake City earlier this year, spoke warmly of his visit and of what he had learned about the LDS Church, particularly the church's extensive humanitarian program.

"Do you know what we call the Mormons? We call them Muslim Christians because we have so much in common," said Imam Fazaga. "We only wish that we were as well organized for doing good as the Mormons."

The events came about as the result of outreach efforts by Steve Gilliland, who serves as the director of Muslim relations for the church's Public Affairs Council of Southern California, and Warren Inouye, who serves as the director of Muslim relations for the Orange County area.

"The dinners were important steps in an effort to introduce real Mormons to real Muslims so that the dialogue between the two faiths can proceed at a personal level," said Inouye, who noted that it was the first time that many of the LDS members had entered a mosque.

Gilliland noted that while numerous groups across the United States have recently been vocal in their opposition to Muslims, "We were privileged to break bread with our wonderful Muslim neighbors, reaffirming our commitment to allow all people 'to worship how, where, or what they may.'"

Mormons and Muslims share many practices and standards saidr Gilliland, including health codes, a focus on modesty, belief in the importance of family and an expectation that members will improve their lives as they live the teachings of their religion.

Denise New-Hamilton, the Garden Grove California Stake public affairs director, contributed.

Barbara Evans Openshaw is the Placentia California Stake public affairs director.