As Ramadan, Passover and Easter converge, an interfaith trolley rolls out
The rare alignment of major Christian, Muslim and Jewish holidays is fueling a flurry of interfaith celebrations across the nation this month
That Easter, Passover and Ramadan — major holidays in the three Abrahamic faiths — converge this year hasn’t been lost on the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities.
Across the nation, there’s a wealth of interfaith events to attend in honor of the overlap, from virtual gatherings, to in-person Ramadan fast-breaking meals, or iftars, hosted by mosques and churches, to panel discussions at colleges and universities. But, of the many events taking place this month, the most unique might be Chicago’s interfaith trolley ride.
Heading out on April 24 from Chicago Theological Seminary, the interfaith trolley tour will take riders through the city’s South Side, stopping at sacred spaces in Hyde Park and Kenwood, including a mosque, church, synagogue and Buddhist center. Hosts and participants will discuss interfaith work happening on the ground in these neighborhoods.
Additionally, since holidays from other world faiths also fall in April this year — including the Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi, various Hindu holidays, the Theravada Buddhist new year and the 12-day Baha’i festival of Ridvan — there will be speakers on the interfaith trolley tour from those religious backgrounds. The three-hour trip will end with an interfaith iftar.
When the project was conceived, organizers planned for only one trolley with 25 passengers. But the initiative — which is a joint effort of the American Islamic College, the Chicago Theological Seminary, the Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at the Lutheran School of Theology, Hyde Park Kenwood Interfaith Council and the Parliament of the World’s Religions — attracted so much interest that organizers had to book a trolley for 40.
And then they had to arrange for a second trolley, said organizer Kim Schultz, the coordinator of creative initiatives at the Chicago Theological Seminary’s InterReligious Institute.
She noted that the trip was organized in part to mark this year’s rare convergence of so many religious holidays. The last time so many of the world’s holidays aligned in the same month was 1991, Schultz said
Organizers were looking to do something that would “go past sharing a plate of hummus,” she said. “We’re living in a time where it’s not just about learning but it’s about, ‘How can I support (other communities)?’”
She and the other organizers hope participants will walk away from the trolley with the ability to “embrace and live with our religious and cultural diversity.”
“I hope we can sit on a trolley together and realize we have much more in common than we don’t and maybe that will make someone think differently or act differently the next time they encounter someone who looks different and acts differently or loves differently or prays differently than they do,” Schultz said.
The impact of such initiatives can reverberate far beyond the lives of those who participate, Schultz added, explaining that those who ride the trolley could potentially explain what they learned on the tour to someone who would never sign up for such an event. “And that’s how change is created right?” she said.
Not only do holidays overlap this year but religious texts do, as well. A virtual community iftar hosted by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change kicked off with a note that the Quran portion Muslims would read that night corresponds with part of the Haggadah, the story Jews read on Passover.
Guest teachers for the event were Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Coleyville, the leader of Texas’s Congregation Beth Israel who was taken hostage at his synagogue in January along with a handful of congregants, and Azhar Azeez, the CEO of Muslim Aid USA. The two discussed that the many commonalities between the Quran and Jewish religious texts point to the need to break barriers and bridge differences.
Caring for those around us is both a part of Ramadan as well as a joint value, Azeez said. In both religious traditions, people learn that “we cannot fill up our own stomachs when our neighbors are hungry,” he said.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker agreed, adding that in both Islam and Judaism, it’s essential not just to hold values but to live them, as well. One way to do this, he said, is by building relationships.
Both men were joining the virtual event from Texas, not far from a church that, later this month, will host an in-person iftar that is expected to include roughly equal amounts of Christians, Jews and Muslims. The event, which is being organized by the Jewish community, will be hosted on April 19 at Northwood Church to mark Easter, Ramadan and Passover, said the Rev. Bob Roberts, the church’s lead pastor. He said he’s anticipating about 100 attendees from each of the Abrahamic faiths.
The gathering is unique, the Rev. Roberts noted, because while there are often Jewish and Muslim interfaith gatherings, there are few that also include Christians and even fewer with evangelicals, specifically.
Northwood Church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, and most evangelicals “are not in this (interfaith) space,” he said, even though they should be.
Calling on evangelicals to emulate the biblical ideal of “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be children of God,” the Rev. Roberts added that “peacemaking isn’t just about getting people to accept Christ.” Too often evangelicals think about non-Christians only as potential converts rather than taking them on their own terms and learning from them, he said.
“What better time to do that than during Ramadan, Easter and Passover?,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, many mosques will also be opening their doors to non-Muslim neighbors as they host interfaith iftars.
Through an initiative organized by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, 30 mosques around the country will host iftars organized around the theme of “Justice through Compassion,” said Harris Zafar, national spokesman for the community.
“Ramadan is a time of intense prayer, self-reflection and sacrifice,” he said, adding that an even greater challenge than fasting during sunlight hours is the burden “to improve your inner moral core.”
Against the backdrop of the escalating conflict in Ukraine and the persecution of various religious groups around the world, Zafar said Muslims should use the spiritual work of Ramadan to move beyond “compassion being simply an emotion.”
“What we hope is that a gathering like this gives a good opportunity to examine how our faiths compel us to put compassion into action,” he said.
Correction: The interfaith trolley on April 24 will leave from Chicago Theological Seminary, not the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago as this article originally stated.