Priest at the Holy Nativity Parish in
Westchester is now in his second year of abstaining from food during
The Rev. Peter Rood had never savored the flavor of dates.
The Episcopalian priest had never tasted the sweet, pitted fruit
until a year ago when he broke his first fast during Ramadan, the
Islamic calendar's holiest month.
Many Muslims break a day of fasting with dates, and Rood, 49, now
in his second year of abstaining from food during Ramadan, has grown
to appreciate the fruit.
But an enjoyment for new foods is not all the rector of the Holy
Nativity Parish in Westchester has gained from the experience of
fasting from sunrise to sunset for a month, which he intends to
repeat this weekend as another observance of Ramadan begins.
He's made new friends, gained a better understanding of other
religions and feels closer than ever to God, he says.
After 9-11, Rood wanted his parish to learn more about other
"If there's any possibility for folks to get along, it begins
with one-on-one interaction, a one-on-one relationship, one-on-one
respect and mutual affection," he said.
It all started like a bad joke: a priest, a rabbi and a
A local rabbi Rood knew introduced him to Mohammed Abdul Aleem,
chief executive officer of http://www.islamicity.com/, a
Muslim community Web site.
"I don't want to trivialize it, but we were like the Three
Stooges of interfaith relations," Rood recalls.
Aleem spoke to Rood's parish about Islam and some of its
similarities to Christianity in October 2002, and a friendship
developed, they said.
"He came with his mother," Rood said. "He also came with his
children. That changed the dynamic of the presenter. It wasn't just
a Muslim coming anymore. Here was a man with his mother and family.
(The parish) has become quite fond of the family."
Last year about this time, Rood expressed to Aleem a desire to
fast during Ramadan. Aleem served as Rood's mentor, often calling
and checking in.
"Given my respect for Aleem and Islam, I wanted to honor his
faith by participating in solidarity and experiencing something
that's held as a principle and practice," Rood said.
Though it might cause some members of his own faith to cringe to
see a priest praying with Muslims and even on at least one occasion
bowing toward Mecca, Rood doesn't see it in any way compromising his
"I'm praying to my god," he said. "I'm engaging in the spirit in
the way my own ideology gives me the freedom to pray."
Rood said he's approaching the experience as a student, "perhaps
taking some risks." He says he's exploring an area that up until now
has been unexplored. Whether the Muslim "Allah" refers to the same
God as that of Christians and Jews, he doesn't presume to say.
"I figure in the long run God will sort out all those things in
the end," he said. "I'm not going to claim to know the mind of God
in the meantime."
Immersing himself in another religion drew Rood closer to his
own. During the fast, Rood took the money he'd normally spend on
meals and mid-afternoon lattes and gave it to charity.
"Physically, I did not suffer," said Rood, already an experienced
faster, especially during the 40-day period of Lent. "I grew more
aware of myself and how God made me. I'm more focused on the
goodness of God."
The enlightenment that Ramadan brought Rood last year can be
extended to people worldwide, he said.
"The decision (to fast) has enriched my own life and faith," Rood
said. "Any open-minded Christian would be moved."
Rood and Aleem began fasting Saturday for Ramadan. This time
around, Rood has committed himself to praying five times daily as
Muslims traditionally do.
"I'm going to work hard at keeping that," he said. "During this
time, I'm going to study more. I use the time for my own reflection.
I will reflect upon my own sacred text and I'll read the Quran as
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