same approach?  A nun and an imam debate it

same approach? A nun and an imam debate it

Two precious times for Christian and Muslim believers

In our plural society where Islam is progressing and religious culture is in decline, the association is made more and more frequently: Lent is assimilated to the “Christian Ramadan”, and vice versa. For many French people, these periods of asceticism, fasting and prayer are similar, even if they are confused.

However, their meaning is very different. We wanted to compare Lent and Ramadan, the dates of which this year partly overlap, to understand how Catholics and Muslims live today this highlight of their life of faith, their radical differences, their possible influences, but also their permeability to contemporary trends. On the one hand, Lent is a privileged period of conversion – “lowering oneself” by following Christ until Easter –, on the other, Ramadan appears as a path of personal progression – to “go up a level”. guts” in his fervor as a believer…

These are some of the distinctions that appear in the dialogue between Sister Juliette Ploquin, a Xavierian nun, and Kalilou Sylla, imam of the Great Mosque of Strasbourg. If they are not the ambassadors of their respective religions, whose currents and sensitivities are multiple, both are, by their respective missions and their age – less than 40 years –, privileged observers of the way in which young Catholics and Muslims reclaim these highlights of their religion.

The cross : In our society where religious culture is in decline, Lent and Ramadan increasingly tend to be associated. What do they represent in your respective religions?

Sister Juliette Ploquin: Lent is the period of forty days preceding Easter. These are forty days of preparation, fasting, conversion to prepare one’s heart for the greatest feast of Christians, the resurrection of Christ. Strictly speaking, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fasting days. During the rest of Lent, we are invited to deprive ourselves of what is superfluous, and to pay particular attention to the spiritual life. And then, we try to turn both towards God and towards others, especially the poor, sick or suffering. Personally, it is a time that helps me to do the work of rereading and discernment, to ask in prayer: Lord, where I am today, what is the conversion to which you are calling me?

Kalilou Sylla: Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, used by Muslims in their religious practice. This month is associated with a particular worship: fasting, which constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting involves abstaining from eating, drinking, and intimate relationships from dawn to sunset. During the month of Ramadan, this obligation is based on the second surah of the Quran where God says: “O you who believe, we have prescribed fasting, as it was prescribed to the communities before you. Thus, perhaps you will attain piety. »

In Ramadan, the effort of deprivation seems truly physical, while in Lent, something more immaterial is perhaps at play. What do you think ?

KS: When we talk about the fast of Ramadan, we generally allude to the legal obligation of the Koran, but this period also has a real spiritual dimension: an interior fast. Currents of Islam tend to emphasize this technical and prescriptive aspect. Now fasting is good, but fasting with an objective, knowing what interpretation we give to this deprivation, is better.

We know we are not going to eat or drink, but we also try to turn away from anything that is not God and connect as much as possible to our Lord. It is therefore really a question of going beyond purely technical fasting, to move towards something much more spiritual. Listening to your definition of Lent, I feel like we could almost use it as the definition of spiritual fasting in Islam.

Is there a pattern to follow during Ramadan?

KS: During Ramadan, we say the idea is to take the example of the angels, who do not eat, drink, have intimate relationships, and spend their time worshiping God. We have this recommendation to multiply charitable acts and particularly to read the Quran – which was revealed during Ramadan to the Prophet Mohammed – which we can read entirely throughout the month.

Sister Juliette, in recent years asceticism has found a certain success among Catholics. Should we see an influence of Ramadan?

SJP: There may be a tendency among Christians to say that Lent is only spiritual, that we can therefore put aside all concrete efforts. I think that, on this subject, Muslims are indeed calling out to us. Seeing Muslim friends who observe Ramadan without the modesty that we sometimes have as Catholics challenges Christians who may ask themselves: ” And me ? What is my Lent? »

I have the impression that today, some young people are rediscovering this time, with a thirst for concrete and sometimes radical practices: 90-day Lent, fasting from alcohol or meat, cold showers…

Lent is a path towards the greatest Christian holiday, the resurrection of Christ. What is the outlook for Ramadan?

KS: Ramadan is the time that allows us to “step it up a notch”. It is also the month which allows us to strengthen spiritual education, in which every believer must embark during his life: the objective is to purify oneself as much as possible from spiritual defects – such as hatred, malice, envy , avarice – to get as close as possible to excellence – “al-ihsân” – or to good action, that is to say the best way of doing things. The idea is to tame your ego.

During this period, the dimension of progression is very present: many young people also keep a sort of calendar to note the passages of the Koran that they read each day, the number of prayers they say… It is really a question of to work harder, to recharge your batteries to maintain the same consistency all year round. And go up another notch the following year.

Is the objective of Lent also to achieve a form of religious virtuosity?

SJP: The notion of virtuosity is tricky: in the Christian faith, to progress, one must begin by lowering oneself. Rather, I believe we are invited to recognize our sins and experience total dependence on God. The dimension of moral virtue – even if it is present – ​​seems almost secondary to me.

During Lent, we go with Christ to go through what he experienced: the forty days in the desert, the Holy Week which begins when Jesus enters Jerusalem, then we travel the whole journey with him until his Passion , his death and resurrection. It is a way of inscribing in our time and in our flesh the heart of the Christian faith. This notion of progression is present and, at the same time, it does not happen without grace. That is to say, whatever our efforts, it is not we who save ourselves, it is Christ who saves us through his death and resurrection.

Today, these forms of fasting can be compared to personal development practices that are multiplying outside traditional religions. Do Lent and Ramadan follow these logics? Is it about becoming the best version of yourself?

SJP: Indeed, it is a very proactive tendency that we sometimes observe among young Christians. However, I believe that being a Christian is not about wanting to become the best version of yourself, but about seeking for Christ to live in us. It means dying to self and, in a sense, it is the opposite of personal development. In personal development, you are your own goal: you will create a perfect body, a strong soul, etc. But what is fundamental is the relationship with God.

It is necessary to discern what is good for us to deepen this relationship, and not fall into the temptation of omnipotence or absolute mastery. Because the Christ we follow is omnipotent, but not in the way we imagine: it is the omnipotence of love which comes through humility and self-giving.

Kalilou Sylla, what inspires you with this goal of becoming “the best version of yourself”? During Ramadan, isn’t that what we’re looking for?

KS: I want to say yes! (Laughs.) We base ourselves on texts important to us, in which the prophet says: “God has ordained excellence in all things. » In the Muslim tradition, God has given us a framework and, depending on the context, our place, everyone must try to be, as much as possible, the best they can. Until achieving excellence in the way of living.

We must live as if we see God – “because if you do not see Him, He sees you”says the prophetic tradition.But despite all our efforts, we know that we will never have done everything that is necessary and befitting the divine majesty.

Lent and Ramadan are two times that can be trying. What do you find rewarding about it?

SJP: It’s experiencing this that brings me closer to God. The Catholic liturgy is truly magnificent for this: we progress from Sunday to Sunday, to deepen this desire for God which is very strong, and finally arrive at Easter. I have a loving image in my head: for forty days I wait for him, I wait for him, I wait for him… And finally, at Easter, he is there, it’s incredible, it’s a party.

Throughout Lent, in the Catholic liturgy, we never sing Alleluia, because it is a time of penance. And at the Easter Vigil, during the night, we experience this very long mass where we reread the entire history of salvation. And finally, we hear the first Alleluia which has been ringing for forty days. How beautiful it is to be able to sing about God! It’s really life coming back.

KS: I somewhat agree with what Sister Juliette says: during Ramadan, we realize that another life is possible. We see that we have the capacity to live differently, to deprive ourselves of a certain number of things. At the end of the month, we realize that we have made a lot of effort. So why not continue?


Two facilitators focused on young people

Sister Juliette Ploquin is 36 years old, she entered religious life eight years ago. Xaviere, she currently lives in a community in Créteil, is studying theology and participates in running the Magis network, which brings together young people aged 18 to 35. This year, she helped develop a Lenten calendar for young people.

Kalilou Sylla is 28 years old, he is imam of the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg. Originally from Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis), he left after his baccalaureate to study Muslim theology at the Mohammed-VI Institute for the training of imams, in Morocco. As part of his duties as imam, he launched the youth conference, weekly discussion sessions with young people.



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