These past few days, many Christians have been gearing up for Good Friday when they commemorate the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and celebrate his resurrection from the dead on the Sunday. I am journeying alongside my Christian brothers and sisters but especially want to applaud the remarkable Muslims who have chosen to observe Lent and Easter this year. Some have publicly declared their solidarity through the #Muslims4Lent Twitter campaign – check it out. They’ve been sharing pictures of themselves and what they’ll be giving up for Lent from bread to chocolate to McDonald’s.
Some might see this as reductive as the practise of Lent carries different meanings to different Christians. Some do not give up guilty pleasures but rather take on other practices such as volunteering for food banks or becoming more prayerful and reflective. That’s certainly one layer to bear in mind, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate this group of Muslims demonstrating such beautiful solidarity with their Christian brethren.
Especially in a world where there are forces constantly stoking enmity between the two religions, as so horrifically illustrated by the brutal slaughter of mainly women and children in a suicide bombing of a park in Lahore on Good Friday, which left over 70 dead.
In my native Malaysia, some Muslim groups unabashedly organise public events on the so-called threat of Christianisation so reminiscent of protests by Far Right groups in the West against so-called Islamisation. And so what’s even more touching is that #Muslims4Lent is also about acknowledging the solidarity that many Christians have shown Muslims by fasting during Ramadan.
What the world will always need is people who are willing to reach out to and befriend the Other. So count me in as one of those #Muslims4Lent – I’ve given up meat. In fact, this is the sixth year I’ve been observing Lent. I don’t discount the fundamental theological disagreements between Muslims and Christians regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus and the nature of his divinity. But I’m also constantly humbled by the profundity of the Lenten experience among so many of my Christian brothers and sisters. They use this time to reflect upon injustice and suffering in the world and pray that they can make things better. The story of the betrayal of Jesus and his Crucifixion is also one of complicity – what do the rest of us do when good people are punished for speaking truth to power?
To all Christians, Muslims and indeed anyone else observing Lent – may you have a blessed Holy Week and happy Easter.
Shanon Shah is a writer and researcher on religion, gender and sexuality and has a doctorate in the sociology of religion.