Today marks the end of the month long Ramadan for my Muslim neighbours. Besides the prayers, it is also time of festivity -- feasting, partying, family visits.
My next door neighbours and my family have been living in the same building for the past 30 years. Every year, on the day of Eid ul-Fitr -- the Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of the fast -- my Muslim neighbours serve up some dishes and they bring them over to our family. I always found this part of my neighbour's faith endearing -- this spirit of community and sharing inherent in Islam, and how they extended it to us, their non-Muslim neighbours. A month-long fast is a great reminder of hunger. So after the fast, they feast -- and they share the food with those around them.>
The way I see it, the practice of sharing and giving is a reminder of looking beyond yourself. More people should practice it. I should practice it more. We don't have to be religious to practice sharing -- but generosity and charity are spiritual practices.
I remember there was a time when my mom felt we should reciprocate their gift-giving. So one year when the neighbours came bearing gifts, my mom was ready with a reciprocal gift of fruits -- except the following week my neighbour returned with a gift of fruits too; they were reciprocating my mom's fruits with more fruits.
My mom finally stopped trying to give them presents in return. Otherwise the two families will be passing fruit baskets back and forth forever. This taught me another component to the act of giving: the other party also has to be willing to accept wholeheartedly the gift that is offered; a willingness to receive is also a practice of kindness in itself. You are allowing someone else to share something with you.
My neighbour has just brought over a few dishes -- as they do every year for the past 30 years. As my mom helped herself to my neighbour's cooking, she asked me loudly why I wasn't eating. I told her to just go ahead -- I am vegetarian I could see that the dishes were not vegetarian-friendly.
"It's halal," my mom informed me.
"I'm vegetarian, not Muslim," I reminded my mother.
Somehow I can't help but be amused by this.