Daily Herald columnist Jim Slusher: My iftar and 'a new reality' that benefits everyone
I participated in an iftar this week. Beyond the fact that I am not Muslim, that is not a particularly noteworthy announcement, but the experience did lead me to reflect on issues we at the Daily Herald take into consideration when we set about to report on religious holidays and events in the suburbs.
My iftar came as the result of a friendly challenge from our diversity editor and assistant city editor Madhu Krishnamurthy, who is Muslim and celebrating Ramadan this month by fasting every day between predawn and sunset. During a routine conversation with Madhu last week having nothing to do with the Muslim observance, I noted that my wife and I were participating in a commercial fasting mimicking experience we do a couple of times a year as a health regimen. Madhu lightheartedly suggested I try fasting one day during Ramadan, and when I agreed, she invited me to participate in an informal tradition among Muslims fasting for Ramadan -- gathering with friends or family for iftar, or the meal breaking the day's fast. So, at the end of my day of Ramadan fasting, Madhu and I joined each other via Zoom to discuss the experience and its purpose and any other topics that came to mind.
Among them was a thought I've long held that the more we each experience faiths other than our own, the deeper we understand our own traditions and the better we all get along. The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist, says it this way on his website, www.dalailama.com: "With close contact ... if we don't remain closed-minded but open up, then we can learn something from each other. That way, we can develop mutual understanding and respect. And anyway, a new reality is there."
Without getting too heavy, that kind of thinking drives much of our reporting when major religious holidays come around. We strive to describe observances and activities in a way that respects the tradition involved and that also recognizes people observing a significant touchstone in life as our friends, neighbors and community members -- not isolated outsiders following some quaint mystical oddity. You may see such stories this month as fundamental commemorations for three of the world's major religions coincide -- Ramadan for Muslims, Passover for Jews and Easter for Christians. The fact that we are in Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month may lead to other stories in April, and at various points throughout the year, we describe events connected to observances as familiar to Christians as Christmas or to Hindus as Diwali.
None of these stories is intended to convert readers to some different faith. Madhu's invitation to iftar had no intention of making a Muslim of me. But our shared experiences do help us appreciate and understand each other better. As we dined by Zoom together, Madhu recalled an experience when a photographer who is Catholic covered an event with her at a Libertyville mosque years ago and noted how similar the service was to those with which he was familiar.
"When you see (another religion) in person, it's not so alien," she said.
In general, it is not the mission of a community newspaper -- even one like the Daily Herald that declares "to fear God" as a key part of its overall purpose -- to indoctrinate people with any specific spiritual code. But if a paper manages the reporting properly, we indeed can learn something from each other, whatever our spiritual perspective, and all benefit.