As five panelists of different religious backgrounds discussed their traditions, women around the room at an iftar held in Syracuse, NY, began to latch onto the thread of commonality that brought them together.
The Women’s Iftar was the first of its kind organized by Women Transcending Boundaries, a URI Cooperation Circle and egalitarian community of women from different faith and cultural traditions that seeks to educate and serve their community. The shared iftar, a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, was as much of a way to empower women in their community as it was to break fast.
Co-Founder of Women Transcending Boundaries Danya Wellmon said, “There’s so much amazing work going on [in our community], and a lot of people don’t know what other people are doing. Other collaborations might start to develop from this one.”
As Ramadan, which was observed from May 26 to June 24, came to an end this weekend, Wellmon strives to cultivate the friendships that began to form at the Women’s Iftar. She said that she thinks there would be a lot less war if people worldwide took the time to meet people from other religious traditions, listen and form friendships.
A convert to Islam at 40 years old, Wellmon, now 65-years-old, sees much more in common with her sisters of other religious backgrounds than she did previously. This belief has shaped her vision for Women Transcending Boundaries as she seeks to create opportunities for people to come together and learn from one another.
“I think if we could strive to look at the core values of all traditions, which is compassion, kindness, mercy, love, this is what the prophets came with — this message,” Wellmon said. “I try not to get so bogged down with the dogma of everything. To me, that’s where a lot of fighting comes from.”
While Wellmon calls herself an “out-of-the-box type Muslim,” she is intentional about observing the traditions of fasting during Ramadan, starting with a meal before sunrise, breaking for the five daily prayers, and fasting from food and water until sunset. Wellmon strives to live moment-by-moment to be a better person, but this focus is heightened for her during Ramadan. Each year, she tries to live more compassionately, less judgmentally.
“I think all of us as human beings tend to slip into that pattern,” Wellmon said. “I go to everybody’s [religious] holidays. I like experiencing other traditions’ celebrations. I see all of us as one family, not any of us having all the answers.”
This is a lesson that was recognized by the Women’s Iftar panelists, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Mormon, all talking about their fasting traditions within their religion. Wellmon felt that as people left the iftar, they were surprised by the similarities in their religions’ fasting guidelines. For some, this could be another way to go outside of their comfort zones and and reach out to one another — even keep each other accountable to be more compassionate across different religious traditions.
“The more we realize how tiny we are in this universe, the more humble we get,” Wellmon said.
If you would like to get involved in interfaith work and/or the United Religions Initiative, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you.
This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Grace King. You can read more of her work here.