(First Interview of a Four-Part Series)



by Genevieve Balance-Kupang

Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim siblings! Greetings of a blessed observance of the holy month of Ramadan. I am one with you as you tender intense prayer, do fasting and charitable works, carry out your recitation of the Holy Quran and spiritual reflection while focusing on righteous deeds.

As an advocate of interreligious dialogue and facilitator of multicultural, intercultural, and cross-cultural education, I requested four Muslim counterparts, from different professional backgrounds to share their reflections on the season of Ramadan and how this lingering pandemic is affecting religious celebrations in the Muslim community. They come from Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan and from different professions: a calligrapher, an educational leader, an engineer, and a founder of a consulting firm.

Dr. Tandis Taghavi (Iran)

Dr. Tandis giving a token to the 32nd Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, currently, the dean of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples. This was taken during the Despedida gathering in gratitude to the Cardinal before he embarked to Rome.

Genevieve Balance Kupang: Salam, Dr. Tandis. It is my honor that you agreed to take part in this interview. Please tell us about yourself, the place you come from, and your belief system about the religious observance of Ramadan.

Dr. Tandis Taghavi: I am an Iranian calligrapher. Iran is a country located in the Middle East. Regarding fasting in Ramadan, I would like to say that prophets and righteous people fasted on certain occasions. Fasting (Sawm) is one of the pillars of Islam and is decreed in the Holy Quran. It was one of the Jewish forms of worship which have been mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. Fasting is also recorded on the church’s calendar and is considered a juridical rite. Mary also had a vow of silence after the birth of Jesus (AS) by the command of God in returning to Jerusalem. When his son was ill, Prophet David (AS) fasted for the acceptance of his prayers for his son’s healing. Old Egyptians, Buddhists, and Hindus also have to avoid eating so that their mind and their body become clean. Indeed, it is a blessing that 6 billion out of the 7 billion people on Earth are religious-oriented. Anyway, this is very interesting for me that the ultimate goal of all religious people is to be perfect, so there are so many common ways in this direction. If we try to be kind to each other without bias, we will get closer to each other in the way of seeking God.

GBK: During this lingering pandemic, which aspect of your spirituality is helping the Muslim community alleviate the sufferings of people? How is your religion supporting your community to cope with the impact of this life-threatening virus?

TT: Surah Al-Muzzammil, verse 9: رَبُّ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ فَاتَّخِذْهُ وَكِيلًا.

[He is] the Lord of the East and the West; there is no deity except Him, so take Him as Disposer of [your] affairs. Existence is not without wisdom and justice because a loving and merciful Creator has created it with an eternal thought. God is the Lord of the world and is supposed to nurture the soul of all to perfection and infinity. So, I believe that the severity of this disease is temporary, and “with every difficulty, there is a relief.” Thus, I`ve learned that my happiness and success are linked to every single person on earth. According to Saadi: “human beings are members of a whole in creation and are of one essence and soul.” The Prophet of Islam, peace, and blessings of God be upon him, says that “if your neighbor is hungry and you sleep peacefully, you are not a Muslim.” So instead of accumulating wealth for myself, I will seek to solve the material and spiritual problems of my fellow human beings. And I will take more care of the land and nature, which is the collective wealth of all the people of the planet.

GBK: It has been more than a year that health protocols were enforced. What are the innovative ways of engaging with the broader Muslim community as you spend time for worship, reflection, and connection during Ramadan?

TT: According to Hazrat Ali (AS): مالا یدرک کله لایترک کله “What cannot be done completely should not be abandoned.” In the holy month of Ramadan, we are formally at the feast of God and enjoy the vast table of divine mercy. In addition, we have our solitude and prayer with the Creator of the universe, because it is ordered that group prayer is more accepted. As we now go to work under strict protocols, we can attend mosques and outdoor religious places again by observing social distancing and wearing masks, and symbolically hold ceremonies in the presence of great religious leaders and other believers and friends taking part in these programs online.

GBK: Muslims are admired for their recitation and devotion to the 99 names of God. Which one is most helpful for you during this pandemic?

TT: Most of the time, I feel God’s general and special mercy, and at different times, I have felt God’s manifestation in many names. But during this COVID-19 pandemic, I had these three names in mind more than the others.

السلام(Alsalaam): In this name, healing the sick and being safe from pests and diseases…

الحفیظ(Al-Hafiz): Whoever says this dhikr in numbers, s/he will not suffer, even if s/he goes to the seven fields and s/he is safe from drowning, and this name will work quickly for those who are afraid.

الصبور (Alsaboor which means patient): Whoever repeats this dhikr a thousand times, God inspires patience in times of difficulty.

GBK: As a Muslim, what are your dreams for humanity’s better future? What has this critical time of covid19 taught you as a believer of Islam?

DTT: My dream is global solidarity. We are all connected like invisible chains. If I make the slightest move, this movement rotates, and it reaches me. If someone has a financial problem, it is not possible for me to enjoy my property. God has entrusted us with some of the property of others. We must either give it to charity or pay khums so that we can enjoy it. As a Muslim, I consider the suffering and happiness of people everywhere in the world as my own suffering and happiness.

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقۡنَٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٖ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلۡنَٰكُمۡ شُعُوبٗا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْۚ إِنَّ أَكۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَىٰكُمۡۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٞ”

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwâ [i.e., he is one of the Muttaqûn (the pious. See V.2:2)]. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” In this case, all of us human beings would be lovers who only consider the pleasure of God. Therefore, we will be the most honorable in our human duties in every religion and ethnicity. We will also have the same idea for a world without war, disease, and peace.

GBK: Share your message of solidarity and hope for Ramadan amidst the covid19 pandemic.

DTT: It is the duty of Muslims and thinkers to search deeper for the commonality of Abrahamic religions to achieve world peace, and to do research based on reason without prejudice and misunderstanding while keeping the beauty of one’s own religion. Surely, after research, any free-thinking heart can understand that God sent Abraham, Khalilullah, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad for one common purpose only: worshiping the great God, guiding, and saving humanity.

إِنِّی مُهَاجِرٌ‌ إِلَىٰ رَ‌بِّی

همانا من به سوی پروردگارم هجرت می‌ڪنم.

( عنکبوت / 26 )

“Indeed, I will emigrate to [the service of] my Lord. Indeed, He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”

GBK: Thank you, Dr. Tandis Taghavi, for your valuable sharing. May Allah reward you for your generosity. You are a dear sister in the interreligious movement who has always been available–giving lectures, sharing your art and the Iranian cuisine when you, your daughters Fatemeh and Reyhaneh, your husband, his Excellency Cultural Counselor Mohammad Jafarimalak was still serving the Iranian Embassy in Manila. Please extend my kind regards to your loved ones in Iran. Again, I end with my infinite gratitude to you, Dr. Tandis.

To our dear Pressenza readers, in the coming days, Dr. Yaya Aliyu (Nigeria), Engr. Ossama Al Azzouni (Saudi Arabia), and Mr. Bisharat Khodadad (Afghanistan) will share their views on this topic.

About the author:

Genevieve Balance Kupang (Genie) is an anthropologist, consultant, researcher, and advisor to individuals and organizations engaged in working for good governance, genuine leadership, justice, integrity of creation, peace, the indigenous peoples, preservation of cultures, and societal transformation processes. She is a peace educator, author, an interreligious dialogue practitioner, and resource person with a career in the academe and NGO.