by Sara Fadlalla
So, what is Lent? That is the question I wonder each year when the Easter candy starts springing up in the store aisles, and fast food chains have special deals on their fish sandwiches. Learning about different religions and their religious practices is crucial, especially when respecting other’s faiths is important and specifically stated in the Quran and Hadith. So where does Lent come from in the scriptural texts and why is it so important?
Lent historically was a means for early Christians to self-examine and self-deny in preparation for Easter. Because of this self-denial and self-examination, early Christians used fasting to demonstrate those actions. By denying oneself food, he or she is then able to really reflect and examine oneself. This is not too far off from what happens during Ramadan; when we stop eating and drinking, we grow weak, tired, and our true selves present themselves, and in that way we are able to evaluate our character, and grow and think more clearly. Today, though, there are various more lax stipulations about Lent, although the two major notions of self-denial and self-examination still exist. Catholics, for example, have relaxed some of the stricter fasting rules making only Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays preceding Lent days of fasting. This is not fasting in the Muslim sense, but fasting from, what was considered luxurious, so meat specifically and some Christians likewise avoid eating dairy products and eggs because of their medieval stance as luxury. This explains why restaurants begin providing an even greater variety of fish, which historically was viewed as less of a luxury item, and much more commonplace.
Why do people give something up during Lent? Well, if you recall the rationale behind Lent are those of self-denial and self-examination; therefore, denying oneself pleasurable and desired things (like chocolate, sweets, or other delights) helps in reflection and examination through denial of chosen item. This also shows some overlap with Ramadan in our restraint from things that are halal, yet still impede in our ability to truly benefit from Ramadan. An example of this may be limiting the amount of time spent playing video games or watching television in order to read more Quran and pray Taraweeh in the Masjid.
Basically, Lent is the Christian derivation of self-reflection, self-denial, and self-examination, and when we really think about it, Ramadan has a lot of those same characteristics. So, whenever I ask a friend what they’ve given up for Lent, I think having a grasp of why they choose to do so will allow me to never belittle their religious experience just because I think mine may be seemingly “more difficult” because, at the end of the day, denying oneself of something for the sake of their beliefs is a struggle many faith traditions can agree upon is both very challenging and rewarding.