Kristen Hodges was preparing a lesson for her LDS Relief Society class about fasting more than two years ago when she decided to research how different religions observe fasting.
“For me, sometimes I wax and wane with fasting, and I wax and wane in the way that it is meaningful to me,” said Hodges, who is originally from Las Vegas but currently lives in Salt Lake City. “And I wanted to see what other people were doing and maybe incorporate some of those ideas into my fast to make it more meaningful.”
Hodges discovered a 2010 Deseret News article about a Mormon congregation in Southern California that joined together with a Muslim congregation to end their fasts. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints collectively observe a fast once a month on a Sunday. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims fast in order to feel the pain of the poor. They celebrate Ramadan, a 30-day religious period during which a fast is observed from before sunrise to about sunset. It is not uncommon for Muslims to invite other religions to join them in an iftar, or a meal to break the fast.
In her research, Hodges learned that Muslims "focus on making sure that you’re not superficial," she said. "The discipline forces you to remember why you’re alive and trying to be the best form of yourself. It’s about self-restraint and trying to get rid of whatever is between you and God. I feel like their fast goes a little bit deeper sometimes than my fast did."
The article stuck with Hodges for two years, and when she was invited by a friend to visit a Salt Lake City mosque, Hodges connected with a Muslim woman, Amina Dinki, who agreed to help her plan an iftar, or a meal where Mormons and Muslims could join together to break their fasts.
The two met several times in person prior to the event to plan the logistics, but Hodges also sought Dinki’s advice on how to help the Muslim community feel comfortable in the LDS chapel.
“I was very, very intent on making sure that everything in our church building would be welcoming and comfortable for the Muslim community,” Hodges said. “It’s probably the first time in an LDS chapel for a lot of them, and I didn’t want anything to be off-putting. There’s a different culture, there are different expectations so I talked with Amina a lot about how do we set up the prayer rooms in an appropriate way? Are there any cultural nuances that I need to understand?”
The Relief Society room is serving as a room of prayer. pic.twitter.com/hn6uhSeVIr— BCC (@ByCommonConsent) June 5, 2017
Hodges’ bishop, Jordan Howe, was in full support of the idea.
“It just seems like there has been so much misunderstanding about what Muslims are all about and especially with very recent...headlines and things. It seems like the misunderstandings have only increased,” Bishop Howe said. “So when it came up a few months ago it seemed like a really nice thing to do, a nice way to reach out and have a ward activity with the local mosque.”
On Sunday, June 4, 2017, the vision of Hodges and Dinki became a reality as the members of the Gregson Ward of the LDS Church welcomed their neighboring Muslim community for a night neither congregation will soon forget.
“Everyone was just nice and sweet and no one had any negative thoughts about each other. It was just a great opportunity for me to meet new people in my life,” said Dinki, who had never previously been involved in planning an event like this. “It was a good experience that I will take with me forever.”
A dinner of Somali food was served and both the Mormon and Muslim communities were represented in the program. A Muslim leader led a call to prayer, something many members of the LDS community had never experienced but Hodges called “beautiful.” Attendance exceeded all expectations.
“We thought we would have a nice small group from our ward and a nice small group from the mosque and to me, it showed the power of social media,” Bishop Howe said. “I hadn’t realized that people had spread the word a little bit and as far as the attendance, it was much, much greater than what I expected and seemed to be signal for the amount of interest from both communities, LDS and the Muslim community, to want to build a bridge and to want to spend time to get to know each other in that environment.”
Hodges said the most rewarding part of the night was watching the Mormons and Muslims mingling together and sitting together at tables sharing a meal.
“People really came in order to meet someone new and that is what I was hoping would happen,” Hodges said. “That we wouldn’t be segregated by culture or by religion, that people would feel free to talk and ask and answer questions with people that were new to them, and I saw that happening. And I thought it was beautiful.
“I think it’s so important because we can harbor fears for people that we haven’t even met and haven’t even spoken with. ...I think that being physically with a person, sitting across the table from them and sharing food has to eliminate at least a portion of that fear, if not all of it, so I thought that was really, really beautiful.”
Following the event, Hodges said she received positive feedback from "people from both sides saying that it was such a great experience for them and that they felt welcomed and they felt loved and that they loved having the opportunity to meet people that they wouldn’t otherwise meet."
"I just wish that we had more and more of these opportunities to do that, to kind of break down barriers and have interfaith experiences and just reach out and realize the beautiful commonalities that we share,” Hodges said.