Come together

Jeff vonKaenel

The only way we can move toward a sustainable future is if each and every one of us moves out of our comfort zones toward a higher plain where former rivals can come together to focus on a new, better vision. This vision of the future would have points of agreement that are so strong, they overshadow any minor disagreements.

Our ability to accomplish these goals will, to my mind, only be possible when environmentalists and farmers feel they are on the same page, when smart-growth advocates and developers are rooting for the same policies, and when business owners and regulators share common goals. Then and only then will we have a real shot at building a sustainable community.

My hope for the future was ratcheted up three or four notches several weeks ago when I attended iftar—the breaking of the daily fast that marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan—at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Midtown.

The Catholic parish invited the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims to break the fast. In the basement of St. Francis, nearly 125 people, roughly half from SALAM and half from St. Francis, gathered together to mark the occasion.

This convergence of Muslims and Catholics was inspired by an event that occurred nearly 800 years ago, in 1219, when St. Francis of Assisi visited the Muslim Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Egypt. St. Francis’ courage should not be underestimated, since at the time, the Muslim and Christian communities were at war in the midst of the Fifth Crusade.

At the breaking of the fast last month, head priest Father Anthony explained that St. Francis, upon returning from Egypt, was so impressed with his hosts that he adopted some of their teachings, including the Muslim tradition of referring to God as “all knowing.”

Both Father Anthony and SALAM’s religious leader, Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, spoke of the similarities between the Catholic observance of Lent and Islam’s Ramadan. Fasting encourages both Catholics and Mulsims to practice moderation and refrain from everyday evils such as gluttony. By controlling desires for a few weeks, days or even hours, individuals can build a foundation on which to tackle larger personal problems, physical and spiritual.

The highlight of the evening was hearing Mohamed sing the call to prayer in the basement of St. Francis. Although I have heard him recite the prayer numerous times in other settings—at SALAM last month and at the News & Review’s Call for Unity event at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center—somehow it sounded more beautiful in a room filled with both Christians and Muslims.

It was remarkable that two religious groups with such longstanding animosity toward each other could come together, bury their differences and move on to a higher plain. For those who seek to build a more sustainable community, it’s a lesson that should not be ignored.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.