Lent is a time of reflection when Christians seek to reconcile themselves with God and their neighbours. This year it has also taken on a special meaning for thousands of Muslims around the world who are taking part in a solidarity initiative to fast alongside Christians.
Centred around the hashtag #Muslims4Lent, those participating have posted photos of themselves online promising to refrain from something for 40 days: chocolate, Instagram, swearing and even online shopping.
#Muslims4Lent has been particularly appealing to young Muslims who want to be part of a positive movement to counter negative stereotypes and take a proactive stand against the negative events in the world which, partly or wholly, stem from religious tensions.
Bassel Riche, an American Muslim, is the co-creator of the interfaith EidPrayLove blog where Muslims and non-Muslims alike are provided a safe space to ask questions about Islam. He describes the initiative as a way of showing “the respect we have for each others' faiths” and demonstrating the peaceful teachings of Islam through meaningful actions.
Lent is an opportunity for Muslims to reflect on Jesus (Isa), revered as a prophet in Islam, and his radical message of peace. I was raised a Christian and Jesus' teachings have a special place in my heart because they were the foundation of my faith as a child. His instructions to engage with and support those who are neglected or ill-treated by society has inspired my Lenten aim to become more mindful of my social responsibility.
For other Muslims, this is the first time they have encountered Lent and have chosen to spend the time reading about Jesus in the Qu'ran or the Bible. Following the tragic deaths of Coptic Christians in Libya, many Muslims have also felt compelled to fast as a way of supporting Christians and, as a result, have become more aware of ongoing persecution of Christians around the world.
Giving up something for Lent is a simple act, yet it is an incredibly powerful one. A single gesture of solidarity has the potential to trigger a wave of positive engagement between communities.
One of the most beautiful aspects of #Muslims4Lent has been the large number of young Christians who have been so moved that they have been inspired to fast themselves, even though they hadn't originally intended to. In fact, there is already buzz among Christians who wish to reciprocate with a #Christians4Ramadan initiative.
By fasting together, we celebrate that which unites us rather than focusing on things which divide. Initiatives like #Muslims4Lent demonstrate that we are able to support each other in faith, despite our diverse religions, without compromising our own tradition.
While fasting reminds people of faith that we are united by our desire to walk closer with God, interfaith dialogue reminds us of how much richer our lives are when we strive towards that goal hand in hand.
Sarah Ager is an interfaith activist and English teacher based in Italy. She converted to Islam in 2011