I've often heard that the Lenten Season is the most awkward time between Christians and Muslims. This is probably because the end of Jesus's (PBUH) story is one of the major differences between our two religions. In Islam, Jesus ascended directly into Heaven and was not killed while the Romans crucified another man who was "made by Allah to appear like Jesus" (Quran 4:157-158). For many Muslims, engaging with Christians around the time of Easter is especially challenging because the Christian belief in Jesus's crucifixion is central and frames much of Christian identity.
However, since Muslims and Christians often find common ground in Jesus' teachings, I believe that a holy period focused on Jesus provides opportunities to reinforce the commonalities between our faiths. Indeed, attending Georgetown University showed me the enormous potential for interfaith dialogue about common values during the Lenten season.
Georgetown is a Jesuit-Catholic institution, but the university greatly supports other chaplaincies and actively encourages other religious groups to host their own events during the Lenten season. For example, virtually all chaplaincies (and even some secular organizations) host spring retreats which emphasize personal reflection and spiritual growth. Retreats are part of the university's Ignatian heritage, but people of all faiths (and non-faith, as well) are invited to engage with the Jesuit value of Contemplation in Action. Also, Georgetown hosts a large number of community service and interfaith events designed to bring the campus together around Jesuit values of Women and Men for others and Community in Diversity. Although these principles are officially part of Jesuit spirituality, I have found many similarities between them and my personal values as a Muslim. Through Georgetown's many forums for inter-religious dialogue, I have grown stronger in my own faith.
For example, the Muslim tradition of Ramadan has much in common with Lent. Similar to Lent, Ramadan is a time of giving up certain activities to get closer to God. Muslims don't just refrain from food and drink; we also refrain from negative actions like complaining or criticizing others in order to develop Islamic values like moderation and self-discipline.
Watching my Christian friends give up various luxuries and focus more deeply on Jesus's messages of patience and humility was an unexpected reminder of what I love about my own religion. I was especially amazed by one friend who, instead of "giving up" a particular activity, decided to pursue the activity of solitary prayer more often. That particularly resonated with me as a Muslim, because personal reflection is also an important (but often overlooked) theme in Islam. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) frequently prayed in solitude, and Ramadan is a holy month because he received the first Quranic Revelation during Ramadan in one such experience. After observing my friend's commitment to her faith, I strived to emulate that commitment in my own life and decided to focus more on Islam's five daily prayers. Therefore, by designating the Lenten season as a time for spiritual growth for people of all faiths, Georgetown facilitates interfaith dialogue while remaining true to its Jesuit-Catholic identity.
Although Lent is often marked by displays of mourning and sadness for Christians, the season presents great opportunities for Christian-Muslim dialogue and personal reflection, especially at schools committed to interfaith understanding such as Georgetown. However, reflecting on the similarities between Christianity and Islam does not mean that we must necessarily agree on everything. Significant differences on social issues, theology and philosophy will always exist between the two religions. Still, by actively engaging Christians about religious commonalities during Lent, Muslims have the chance to experience personal growth and remember what inspires them from their own faith. After all, the Quran enjoins us as Muslims to find "common terms with the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians) that we worship only one God" (Quran 3:64).